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?
Councillors 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.”
It took a question from Coun. Jim Herbert at Monday’s (June 7) council meeting to get a sense of how people are handling newfound freedom at Lake Margaret. Coun. Herbert pointed out, “people don’t seem to be following the bylaws, you go by and people are fishing. How many tickets have been given out? Hopefully, it is settling down.” To which Jeff Bray, the city’s new director of parks, recreation and property management responded, “I can’t say how many tickets have been issued. I know bylaw enforcement has been out there and I can check with them. “I know the Ministry of Natural Resources has been very active there and they have been issuing lots of tickets. Bray continued, “On Sunday, I know that they gave a bit of an education piece to 10 to 15 fishers out there. They were 12 to 16 years of age.
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.”
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.
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.
While the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in long-term care homes across the province, you only have to look at first-rate facilities like Elgin Manor and Valleyview Home to witness the flip side of the pandemic coin. Neither facility had a confirmed case of COVID-19 and we talked at length with Valleyview administrator Michael Carroll about that and he credits the loyal staff and ongoing support from the city. “The staff here are excellent,” observed Carroll. “They are providing great care to the residents. They are very diligent in protecting themselves when they are out in the community.” Elaborating on diligence Carroll notes, “They are very diligent in ensuring that they are screening themselves for any symptoms of COVID-19 or any sickness for that matter. “They’re calling in, they’re getting tested and staying home to not bring anything into the home.” Continue reading →
Video surveillance will soon be keeping a watchful eye over the city’s downtown core. At Tuesday’s (May 19) meeting, members of council will be asked to endorse Phase 1 of a project that will see the installation of eight CCTV cameras along a two-kilometre stretch of Talbot Street, from CASO Crossing to Queen Street. The locations were selected based on 2018/19 crime mapping data and motor vehicle collision reporting information. In a report to council from city police, it is noted the CCTV program “is a proactive, local solution modelled on successful networks in other municipalities to enhance community well-being and assist the St. Thomas Police Service with solving crime.” Right now when a crime is committed downtown, police need to canvass businesses to see if they have surveillance footage as evidence.
From the promise of a downtown fibre optic network to assurance the St. Thomas office of Entegrus is under no threat of closure, the future is one of exceptional service, according to the top brass at the merged utility. The trio of heavyweights – including president and CEO Jim Hogan – appeared before council at Monday’s (March 18) reference committee meeting to update members as the one-year anniversary of the St. Thomas Energy/Entegrus merger approaches on April 1. Their message was one of corporate goodwill. Everything’s going to be fine, Jack. The kind of pat-on-the-head pep talk you get when your share of the pie is only 20.6 per cent. And, nary a word on why the city received such a minority share when it serves 30 per cent of the total 59,000 customer base. But more on that financial skeleton in the closet in a moment.