Quite the surprise this week with the announcement City Manager Wendell Graves plans to retire next March. Hard to imagine he began his public service 41 years ago as a student in the Municipality of Central Elgin planning office. That’s according to the city hall media release, however Central Elgin was not established as a municipality until 1998 and as reader Dave Mathers correctly points out it would have to be a planning office in Belmont, Yarmouth or Port Stanley. Also, surprising is his rationale for the long lead time up to that date next spring. “The next few months will fly by and I want to ensure city council has the opportunity to plan strategically for its next leadership,” advises Graves. In commenting on the announcement, Mayor Joe Preston notes, “With our city positioned in such a strong, strategic direction city council appreciates the fact that Wendell has provided a good planning horizon so that we can thoughtfully recruit and put in place the next leadership for the City.” Did you catch the common theme here? Leadership for the city is provided by the city manager. Most residents of St. Thomas are likely under the impression the city is led by the mayor and council. After all, isn’t that why we elect them?
With all the knocks against the province’s coronavirus attack plan and vaccination roll-out, you have to wonder how much consultation there has been with the local health units and their medical officers of health? In fact, how closely is the government listening to medical authorities at institutions like Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto and other experts in the field on a safe back-to-school policy? You can point to the federal government for their handling of the vaccine itself, but is the shortage an easy target when your own program is likewise sputtering and subject to rapid and unexpected about turns? At the grassroots level our local health unit, Southwestern Public Health, is being proactive and has approached the city to obtain use of Memorial Arena as a vaccination hub. The matter is a late addition to Monday’s (March 1) council agenda. As noted in city manager Wendell Graves’ report to members, “Attributes of the site include easy access, good parking and the ability to map out an operational floor plan that would allow for the greatest number of people to be vaccinated as expeditiously as possible.”
While the new COVID-19 case numbers have retreated somewhat at the back end of this week, they remain disturbingly high. In the Southwestern Public Health region as of Friday, two key indicators are red-flagged.
The percent positivity rate has risen sharply to six per cent, with a number above five meaning there is widespread community transmission at this moment.
As recently as mid-October the number was well below one per cent.
And, the ongoing cumulative confirmed case rate per 100,000 population sits at 166.4 for the health unit’s coverage area. For St. Thomas. it is even higher at 169.6, although it has dropped significantly this week.
Any number above 40 per 100,000 population is enough to keep the region in the COVID-19 Red-Control or Grey-Lockdown zone. Continue reading →
As city residents transitioned from Christmas celebrations to life under a minimum 28-day province-wide shutdown, we chatted with Mayor Joe Preston on how this will impact the administration’s game plan for 2021.
Considering council and administration accomplished much in a year we would otherwise like to forget.
That includes a new transit system that will begin to take shape this month, the impressive number of building permits issued in 2020, construction projects underway like the residential development on the Alma College site, new industries like Element5 springing up, affordable housing projects and a new civic park project to be developed on the site of the former police headquarters.
Always upbeat, Preston began by pointing out city hall will remain open during this time while other municipalities have chosen to keep their administrative offices closed.
Do you have the feeling we’ve spent the last nine months trying our best – most of us, that is – only to find we’re right back at Square 1 with a shut down effective Monday.
A whole lot of one step forward and two steps back.
We spoke with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek on Tuesday (Dec. 22) about his government’s decision to wind many things down for a minimum of 28 days.
And, why wait almost a week instead of starting Christmas Eve as was originally planned.
“The key to the lockdown is to open up space in the hospitals,” advised Yurek, “especially the ICU rooms across the province. We’re getting almost to capacity and you need the space in order to have other emergency surgeries like heart, stroke, etc. open for those spaces.”
As of Thursday, Southwestern Public Health was advising of eight hospitalizations across the region due to COVID-19 infections with two of those individuals in the ICU.
“That’s the key criteria,” continued Yurek, “to keep the cases numbers down and open up capacity in the hospitals. The doctors have informed us four weeks should be a good enough time period to do so.”
The magnificent edifice at the corner of Talbot and Mary Streets, formally known as the Mickleborough building, has had a bit of an uncertain future over the past three years.
It was the former home of Ontario Works before the city purchased it from London developer Shmuel Farhi in March of 2017.
It dates back to the early 1900s and was designed by St. Thomas architect Neil Darrach. Its appraised value at the time of the sale was $4 million.
Under the deal, Farhi Holdings was to donate $2.3 million in exchange for a tax receipt and the city would pay the remaining $1.7 million.
The intent at the time was to partner with the Central Community Health Centre in hopes of consolidating their operations into the structure that once housed the British mainstay Marks and Spencer in the 1970s and Huston’s Fine Furniture into the 1990s.
Added to its functions this year was transforming a portion of the stately building to serve as a day shelter for the homeless.
A far cry from the home of fine furniture.
Picking up from Monday’s 2021 city budget deliberations, council had directed administration to pare back the municipal property tax levy from 2.48 per cent to 1.5 per cent in deference to the economic impact on ratepayers of the coronavirus.
That request by council translated into cutting about $572,000 from the proposed capital and operating budgets.
Council indicated a priority would be to maintain as much as possible the tax-base contribution to the capital budget and minimize the impact on service delivery in the operating budget.
In other words, find the savings without cutting services.
To deliver on council’s request city manager Wendell Graves and department heads held a pair of meetings on Tuesday of this week to ferret out possible sources of savings.
As a result, council grants to community groups and organizations will be cut by $75,000 in the new year. Leaving about $210,000 in the grant kitty to distribute in 2021.
It was agreed to reduce Community Improvement Program funding by $200,000.
City council will hold two meetings this coming week to begin deliberations on 2021 proposed operating and capital budgets.
The first will start immediately after Monday’s (Dec. 7) council meeting which begins at 5 p.m., with the second to be held the following day starting at 5 p.m.
As it stands now, the budget calls for a 2.48 per cent increase to the property tax levy next year.
Capital projects as proposed would require just under $41 million in funding and, if passed by council, would mark the largest capital budget where debt was not drawn.
Items in the capital budget recommended for approval include up to five electric light-duty vehicles as the city begins to make good on reducing its carbon footprint.
The biggest project at $10.8 million is rebuilding Fairview Avenue from Elm Street to Southdale Line.
Annual road rehabilitation comes in at $2 million and the ongoing Complete Streets program next year will require $6.8 million.