With the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes. Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief. While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters. In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council. Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”
Four months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin. And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside. In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice. Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.” Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.
Size does, in fact, matter. That was the finding back in 2003 of what was known as the McCarthy-Tetrault report, a full and independent review of the council of the day and its working relationships at city hall. The initial call for a review of council and staff dated back to April 28 of that year when Jeff Kohler, then an alderman, moved that “the City of St. Thomas undertake an independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas.” The subsequent report categorized council as “dysfunctional” and its inability to operate in cohesive fashion is “rooted in the mix of personalities . . . . The resulting lack of respect for others seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.” The report’s author, Chris White of the law firm McCarthy-Tetrault, made several recommendations, the most contentious of which called for the reduction in the size of council to seven members from the then-current eight, including the mayor, in an effort to cut down on the number of deadlocked votes.
Let’s start with the following premise. “If the joint goal of our community is to provide as much affordable housing for people (as possible), it is important that the private sector be the primary delivery agent.” That’s the argument put forth by Peter Ostojic who, along with his brother Joe, has completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer. In the past several months via emails sent to this corner, Peter has repeatedly questioned why the city is undertaking the construction of affordable housing units such as Phase 1 of the city’s social services and housing hub recently opened at 230 Talbot Street. A total of 28 apartment units are located on the two floors above the ground floor office space. Of those units, eight one-bedroom apartments have received funding through the federal/provincial Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program. As such, rents can be no higher than 80 per cent of the average market rent for the area.
Hopping on a bus bound for London may soon be a reality for St. Thomas and Elgin county residents.
The city is about to pitch a pilot project to the province seeking funding support for regional transit connectivity for residents of St. Thomas, Central Elgin, Southwold, Malahide and Aylmer.
The undertaking was a recommendation of the Transit Strategic Plan presented to city council a month ago, although the pilot project would go beyond the one-year test suggested in that report.
As outlined Monday (Dec. 16) by Mayor Joe Preston at the reference committee meeting, the three-year undertaking would see a Monday through Sunday service operating from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The bus would leave St. Thomas on the hour for each trip, although Preston stressed these times and hours of operation could be adjusted.
In the end, any hope of including “a faithful replication of the north facade of the former Alma College building” in a proposed redevelopment of the Moore Street property came down to a conference phone call. In March of this year, city council approved a motion for staff to make an application to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) to remove the requirement of the existing 2008 Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) order that any development or redevelopment on the site of the former school for girls includes such replication. The LPAT hearing was held Nov. 19 via a telephone conference call involving John Sanders, legal counsel for the City of St. Thomas and Joel Farber, representing Patriot Properties.
Transit was a prominent talking point leading up to last year’s municipal vote and now, thanks to provincial funding, city residents may soon be standing at a bus stop of “a transit system we can all be proud of.”
At an announcement Thursday (Aug. 8) in front of city hall, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek indicated the provincial government is committing $1.8 million for transit projects in St. Thomas.
The money will be used for fleet upgrades – including the purchase of 10 new buses with an additional four vehicles for future expansion – and transit technology, including priority signalling for buses at designated intersections.
In addition, the transit projects are being nominated for federal funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), a $30 billion, 10-year infrastructure initiative cost-shared between federal, provincial and municipal governments.
As we noted last month, the city’s social services and housing hub springing up at 230 Talbot Street has run into what city manager Wendell Graves calls a “soft” business case concerning Phase 2. Phase 1, well underway, includes office space for the social services department and 28 residential units. Phase 2 was to include a childcare facility and 24 additional housing units on the second and third floors of the building. In a report to council in June, Graves warned: “preliminary cost estimates for the construction of the proposed Phase 2 project are high.” He added, “At this point, the actual business case for the Phase 2 project is soft and the cost per residential unit is projected to be fairly high ($290,515 per unit).
Exactly four years ago, we wrote at length about workplace harassment at city hall, referring to it as a “toxic environment.” At that time, we postulated the City of St. Thomas, as a corporation, should be held to a high standard of excellence with regard to a workplace environment. The issue in 2015 involved a city employee we identified as ‘Dave’ and his allegations of verbal and physical abuse involving fellow employees and managers. In a conversation in June of that year with human resources manager Graham Dart, he conceded “As an employer, we don’t have to guarantee a harassment-free workplace, because we can’t do that. “There is no expectation or requirement of that. But there is an obligation on our part — especially under the Occupational Health & Safety Act — that we address harassment in the workplace.”