Councillors are willing to do ‘a circus performance’ for childcare facility; the mayor would rather deflect


city_scope_logo-cmykCouncillors sent a clear message to Mayor Joe Preston and city manager Wendell Graves this past Monday.
Push forward with the construction of an 88-space downtown childcare centre in an expedient fashion.
Preston responded as he has in the past, by deflecting.
In his report to council, Graves recommended retendering the project this fall with construction to be completed by the end of next year.
The reason for the delay in going out to tender, advised Graves, is an increase in costs in the neighbourhood of $300,000 when the project was tendered last month.
Putting the cost estimate in the $4.3 million range whereas just over $4 million has been budgeted for the badly needed childcare facility to be located on St. Catharine Street.
“Childcare spaces in our community are desperately needed,” reminded Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, “and I believe once we start coming out of COVID a little more rapidly, the people who are going to be requiring the service of daycare is going to be growing exponentially.”

Coun. Steve Wookey put it bluntly, “If it requires $300,000 of our money to get 88 childcare spots, I’m in favour of that.
“And whether that’s through budget monitoring or you name it, councillors will go out and do a circus performance if we need to.”
And Wookey cautioned, “If we tender in the fall, there is no guarantee it’s going to be done by the end of 2022. Tendering it as early as we possibly can is a really important thing.”

St. Thomas Child CareCoun. Gary Clarke echoed those comments.
“I would love to see the timelines ASAP. And if that means it’s doable before the fall . . . I think we can cover the difference.
“I’m just worried about leaving it until the fall.”
As an update, Graves assured, “We continue to have ongoing dialogue with the ministry relating to this project. Obviously, everybody appreciates the importance of it.
“We still don’t have written confirmation about the end date, when it would need to be completed. We’ve advised them of December 2022.

“I don’t disagree with my colleagues that this is really needed and we could probably jump in and help, but I would hate to jump in and help and make it a permanent we will always help.”

Graves added, “In consultation with our architect, he is very confident we can have that thing completed for December of 2022 if we tender in the fall.”
As for Preston, who had the final word, he observed, “I understand the province is bending over backwards to try and make these things work, but these are the responsibilities of the province, not the responsibility of the municipality.
“Let’s ask the province to do the job they are supposed to do, which is the full funding of it and over a period of time.
“I don’t disagree with my colleagues that this is really needed and we could probably jump in and help, but I would hate to jump in and help and make it a permanent we will always help.”
Completely deflecting from the fact the city was faced with a “soft” business case back in 2019 when the decision was made to not proceed with Phase 2 of the community and social services hub at 230 Talbot Street, which was to be the original home of the childcare facility.
The city was already in receipt of $2.6 million in provincial funding for the childcare spaces with the understanding the facility must be operational by the end of 2020.
An amount that likely would have covered the majority of the costs at that time.
So, for Preston to now wag his finger at the province is quite rich.
What’s that old adage about getting your own house in order?

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GETTING IT ALL DOWN ON PAPER

Back in May, Coun. Jeff Kohler received unanimous backing from council to have staff bring back a report to determine options to limit the distribution of sharps in the city.
Kohler stressed, “I personally would like to see us go to one distribution site, which would be the health unit.
10jt03needlesjpg“And there be a return policy before one (sharp) is given out.”
This past Monday Wendell Graves advised, “We were finally able to have a bit of a meeting on this and we think there might be some next steps.”
At which point Graves handed the ball to Justin Lawrence, the city’s director of engineering.
“We believe maybe the most effective and most appropriate way to go forward would be to have council direct staff to prepare a letter to be sent to Southwest (sic, Southwestern) Public Health requesting that they tell us what their plan is on the collection portion of the sharps program.”
Lawrence continued, “We know that’s provincially mandated but in every city, it’s a bit different. So, we’d like to know what their plan is.
“I also recommend that we copy in the various partner municipalities in the health unit because it affects them equally.”
Council endorsed a motion to proceed with crafting a letter.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions on this topic,” reminded Preston, “so this isn’t out of the blue.
“We are moving forward. We are asking the health unit to put in writing what are your roles?”
Are we really moving forward or is the critical issue of sharps distribution and disposal degenerating into a paper war?

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ANOTHER MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Well, city council has put the blinders on when filling the seat left vacant after the death last month of Mark Tinlin.
Plucking a former councillor from the sideline in the form of Mark Burgess, who served one term from 2014 to 2018 and in his final year of office made it abundantly clear he would not seek re-election.
He just earned a free pass back into the council chamber at city hall.
Earlier this year it was former councillor and mayoral candidate Steve Wookey who was called back upon the death of Linda Stevenson.
city-hall.jpgYou have to stop and ponder the comment from Steve Joseph on the myFM Facebook page.
“I am sure Mark is a great guy and will do a great job,” writes Joseph, “but I think the city council really missed the opportunity to add some diversity to council.”
Members have had two opportunities this year to do just that, add a hint of multiformity to a team that is now comprised of seven men and two women with not a shred of diversity.
Yes, the voters determine the composition of council at the ballot box, however this year there have been two situations where an imbalance could have been addressed and the decision was made to maintain the status quo.
Why not draw from the candidates in the 2018 municipal vote and linger upon the name Petrusia Hontar who garnered a respectable 1,995 votes?
She’s project manager at St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership, someone who could well represent the growing number of newcomers to the city.
Or, reach out to the many resource people in the city who could bring a wealth of knowledge to the table.
Sure they may not have experience in the political forum, but if they are successful in their field they then have the ability to be up to speed in no time.
It will be interesting to see if Burgess’ relationship with the St. Thomas Police Service has warmed up to any extent.
During the 2015 budget deliberations, Burgess attempted to go line-by-line looking for fat to cut.
By his calculations, a savings of $246,000, including $89,650 from the police budget and $13,300 from the fire department.
If he had done his homework he would have realized the Ontario Works, water and sewer budgets are not supported through a property tax levy.
Likewise, he would have seen the St. Thomas Police Services Board determines the annual operating budget and not police chief at the time, Darryl Pinnell, who noted any surplus money comes back to the city at the end of the year.
Both Pinnell and then fire chief Rob Broadbent confirmed Burgess did not discuss any of the cuts — or implications of those cuts on their departments — prior to budget deliberations.
Burgess was also dead set again a new police station and, instead, favoured renovations to the woefully inadequate Colin McGregor Justice Building.
He presented a fact sheet to council on how he could chop $1 million from any previous renovation estimate. A claim that would not stand up to even the most basic of scrutiny.
We noted at the time his worksheet was short on fact and long on speculation. Numbers and percentages were pulled from thin air without a shred of technical justification.
And his assertion that somehow the “bells and whistles” could be stripped from any renovation undertaking at the Colin McGregor Justice Building was totally unfounded.
The justice building proved such a liability there was nary an offer when it was put up for sale.
The vacant land will soon become the downtown civic square.
Meantime, the manner in which this most recent vacant council seat has been filled is, quite simply, a wasted opportunity.
Seems it’s much more convenient to take the easy road.

THE READER’S WRITE

Ongoing feedback on our Walnut Manor items, with Morgan Niederman providing some financial insight.

“Many residents of this home and others like it have their incomes managed by the operators, under trusteeship arrangements that see all their income (such as ODSP) paid to the operators.
“It is unconscionable that for-profit, unlicensed homes be permitted to receive those funds, and then fail to provide basic resources.
“Not only is it morally reprehensible, but it indirectly steals from other resources in town, as their clients are still reliant on community meals and the like.
“Hopefully, investigations about misappropriation of funds are in the works as well.”

And, Valerie Young says change is long overdue.

“Him (owner Vishal Chityal) and city council are well aware of what has been going on and, in my opinion, have done nothing.
“This has gone on way too long. Laws need to change!”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

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