The long and winding road toward a firm – yet fair – community grant policy in St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykPerhaps the city’s alleged new community grant process isn’t quite yet carved in stone.
We wrote about the grant policy last week in advance of Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting where Dan Sheridan, the city’s director of finance, recommended members deny small funding requests from the STEAM Education Centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas Elgin because the money, according to Sheridan’s interpretation, is to be used for operating expenses.
Council heeded Sheridan’s advice but there was a notable sense of discomfort with the decision from several quarters.
Which, once again, opened up a debate over what is and what should the community grant policy look like.
Prompting this opening salvo from Coun. Steve Wookey.
“For the benefit of myself and everyone watching, I just want to review this very quickly.
“These grants are not meant for day-to-day operations. That’s where I have a little bit of a different assessment of it currently than the folks in treasury do.
“In my mind, the over-arching concept here is, does this help get something off the ground.”
A critical consideration put forth by Coun. Wookey as it could be applied to both funding applications before council on Monday.

“So, there are times where I disagree with the assessment of treasury because in my mind I’m trying to get something off the ground.
“So if I’m voting against this, it’s not because I think anybody is doing a terrible job. It’s just because I have a different interpretation of what normal day-to-day operations mean.”
Coun. Jim Herbert concurred.

“. . . personally, as a member of council, I want to support those programs. These are things we need to be part of.”

“The STEAM Education Centre is a youth-run facility and they’re trying to keep it together.”
Coun. Herbert correctly pointed out the decision was made a couple of years ago that the St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre, the Talbot Teen Centre, the St. Thomas Seniors’ Centre and St. Thomas Cemetery Company would receive annual funding from the community grant pool, some of which could end up being used for what might be considered day-to-day operations.
He duly noted the STEAM Education Centre shares the same facility as the Talbot Teen Centre, now known as the Ignite Youth Centre.
“They’re working together and yet the STEAM Centre gets nothing.”
Herbert went on to note the positive impact in the community of Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas Elgin and “personally, as a member of council, I want to support those programs.

“We did this ourselves, folks. We said this is what it would be and it wouldn’t be day-to-day operational money. I don’t think we can cherry-pick and say give it to them.”

“These are things we need to be part of.”
He was willing to put forth a motion to support the two funding grants before council.
Coun. Gary Clarke presented a differing point of view noting, “I don’t have a problem (with Sheridan’s recommendation) because that’s what we asked for.
“If we don’t like what we asked for then we need to have further discussion about it.”
Clarke pointed out applications sent out to various groups did not contain information on new requirements such as dollar limits and operating expenses.
“They received old forms with none of the new information.
“If we need to revisit it (the grant policy), we need to revisit it. And, I think we do.”
Which prompted Mayor Joe Preston to observe, “We did this ourselves, folks. We said this is what it would be and it wouldn’t be day-to-day operational money.
“I don’t think we can cherry-pick and say give it to them.”

“If we do that it will probably be six or seven times we’ve asked for staff to bring a policy back. It’s exactly what I said when we went down this road.”

He continued, “If we’re going to revisit, then level the playing field so all can ask again or live with what we’ve said this year.”
With the prospect of revisiting the community grant policy yet again, Coun. Herbert withdrew his motion but added, “if that’s the plan to revisit it, make sure we revisit it before the end of the year.”
A clearly frustrated Mayor Preston observed, “it’s your call as councillors.”
Which prompted this from Coun. Jeff Kohler.
“If we do that it will probably be six or seven times we’ve asked for staff to bring a policy back.
“It’s exactly what I said when we went down this road.”
One option advised Coun. Kohler is to go back to the way it used to be done and spend time debating and voting on each grant request.
In the end, nothing was resolved and the community grant policy continues to resemble Jello in its consistency.

Related posts:

Is it safe to say St. Thomas finally has a community grant process in place?

Groups think we have a process in place: Sorting out the community grants boondoggle in St. Thomas

CASTING LIGHT ON THE TRAIL

Seems very likely council will take a wander – figuratively – down the Whistlestop Trail when it comes time to begin 2022 city budget deliberations.
Back in June, members voted not to proceed with the installation of lighting along a portion of the walking trail down the London & Port Stanley railway corridor between Wellington and Elm streets.
According to a report from the city’s supervisor of parks and forestry Adrienne Jefferson, the cost for conventional LED lighting is anywhere from just under $100,000 up to $270,000.
For solar lighting, the estimate is in the $128,000 to $209,000 range.
L&PS Trail at Elm StreetBy a 6-2 vote, council approved Jefferson’s recommendation to keep the trail dark.
Councillors Steve Peters and Lori Baldwin-Sands were in favour of some form of lighting.
A compromise of sorts was reached with Coun. Steve Wookey proposing a portion of the trail in the Mill Creek area be lighted at some point in the future.
To ensure that suggestion was not left in the dark, Wookey returned to it at Monday’s (Sept. 13) meeting.
“I don’t want this one to slip through our fingers,” stressed Wookey, “given that budget time is coming up.
“I would like there to be a trial solar lighting project on the pathway south of Wellington Street. If we’re going to be looking at solar lighting for pedestrian crossings on Talbot Street, then we could fold this in.
“How do we go about getting this in the budget for 2022?”
To which Mayor Joe Preston responded, “I’m like you. I would like to trial a section. Certainly, a section that we hear a lot about. That section on the Whistlestop Trail across the ravine.
The ball is now in staff’s court to detail a pilot project and we’ll see if it sees the light of day during budget deliberations toward the end of the year.

Related post:

Mark Tinlin, “a great role model” – St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston

GO-ING THE SLOW TRACK

I’m an unabashed proponent of rail travel and so the announcement this week of a pilot project whereby GO train service will be extended west to London should have increased the pulse rate.
The province is proposing to extend Kitchener GO service to London with stops in St. Marys and Stratford.
The political spin revolves around this news providing an economic shot in the arm to the whole region.
GO train Kitchener lineElgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek noted in a release, “This is great news for London and Southwestern Ontario.
“Increasing transportation choices connects communities and creates new economic opportunities for our entire region.”
Perhaps, if the province had proceeded with the Kathleen Wynne’s government high-speed rail (HSR) proposal linking Toronto with London and eventually Windsor.
A multi-billion dollar undertaking that seemed to roll out prior to each election call.
Toronto transportation writer and policy adviser Greg Gormick put it best.
“At election time, HSR is to politicians what catnip is to felines and they go wild for it.”
But right now we’re talking one outbound and one return trip from Toronto, weekdays only.
Granted, that’s how most GO train routes gathered momentum.
What we’re dealing with is a neglected stretch of rail between London and Kitchener with a strictly enforced speed restriction due to the track condition.
That’s why there was little attention focused on the trip time of approximately four hours, one way. A hefty two hours just to Kitchener.

“Better, more reliable transportation means that more people can access more jobs and critical services, visit family and friends and get to where they need to go in the region much faster.”

VIA Rail’s Train 84 to Toronto on that route currently requires three-and-a-half hours.
The Lakeshore route, which all other Toronto services use, takes anywhere from 2 hours and 9 minutes to two-and-a-half hours.
Even the new highway service operated by Megabus and Badder Bus out of St. Thomas can get you there in just over three hours with the lowest-price ticket at $25.
No departure/arrival times have been announced for the GO train service but you would have to think the train would leave London in that 6 to 7:30 a.m. time block to be of any value.
With a return trip departing Toronto between 4:30 and 6 p.m.
Why wouldn’t you continue to hop aboard a VIA coach where some trains offer meal/snack/drink service? Not to mention business class.
We’re talking a four-hour, downtown-to-downtown marathon here.
The new service begins Oct. 18 and in the promotional video, Yurek calls it “a huge win.”
He continues, extending the service to London “demonstrates our commitment to providing a faster and more reliable transit here at home.
“Better, more reliable transportation means that more people can access more jobs and critical services, visit family and friends and get to where they need to go in the region much faster.”
Faster than what?
Why not extend the Kitchener line to St. Marys and send London trains along the Lakeshore route.
Or is the real issue track capacity on lines owned by CN Rail and that’s the issue the province needs to tackle?

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FOR THE LOVE OF TREES

Tamil actor Vivek noted, “Only by planting trees will we be able to overcome global warming.”
And so the media release this week from Terry Carroll, executive director, Elgin St. Thomas Community Foundation, carries added significance.
A year ago, the foundation announced the Estate of Donna Bushell had contributed $100,000 to establish the Evans Tree Fund, one of the numerous donations from the Bushell Estate directed toward community undertakings.
That includes $335,000 to the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority to build the Evans Sisters Stage at Springwater Conservation Area, just a portion of $2.5 million from the Bushell Estate earmarked for a variety of projects in St. Thomas and across Elgin county.

Jaffa - Evans Tree Fund

Dan Arppe, Environmental Educator at the Jaffa Environmental Education Centre, joins Andrew Gunn and Maddie King of young & free press to celebrate the launch of the new Evans Tree Fund.

Donna Vera Evens Bushell died in November of 2019 and she, along with her sisters, shared a love of local history, music, education and, most certainly, planting trees.
Back to the Evans Tree Fund and its goal of boosting area tree-planting projects.
“This is one of the gifts from the estate that will provide benefits to the community for decades, and perhaps even centuries, given the long life-span of many varieties of trees,” noted Andrew Gunn, consultant for the Bushell Estate.
The first undertaking of the fund is a $1,000 gift to the Jaffa Environmental Education Centre to assist with the on-site arboretum.
Before her death, Donna Bushell established the arboretum to help educators teach students about trees and this latest gift will allow for the planting of more specimens.
“Teaching students about trees is an important part of building interest in local environmental stewardship,” advises Erin Mutch, Learning Coordinator for Environmental Education, Science and Experiential Learning at Thames Valley District School Board
“We use the programming and resources at Jaffa to make this link tangible for students.”

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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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