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.

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


city_scope_logo-cmykWell, a new wrinkle in the city’s much-maligned grant policy.
As evident in the agenda for Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting, the city’s director of finance is now a gatekeeper in the grant application process, taking some of the heat off the mayor and council.
And, it’s not good news for two of the more recognized organizations in the city.
In his report to council, Dan Sheridan reminds members “Successful applications under the current (grant) policy are more likely to be for special events or one-time start-up funding for new community initiatives that align with council’s strategic priorities.”
Sheridan continues, “Grant applications that request funding for expenses that an organization incurs through its normal course of operations are not recommended for approval.
“These could be salaries, advertising or facility repairs, for example. Even costs that are one-time in nature can be considered operating costs if they are used to support the organization’s normal course of operations.”
Quite a tightening of the rules in what has been a loosey-goosey undertaking in the past.

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A fully functional downtown CCTV system helps bring public safety further into focus


city_scope_logo-cmykThe evolution began in May of last year when city council endorsed Phase 1 of a project to install eight CCTV cameras along a two-kilometre stretch of Talbot Street, from CASO Crossing to St. George Street.
The locations were selected based on 2018/19 crime-mapping data and motor vehicle collision reporting information.
But, it is not meant to be a red-light camera system to document vehicles running traffic signals.
The CCTV program was pitched to council as “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.”
A report from the service concluded,” a safe, secure and vibrant downtown will provide a canvas for economic development.”
Last month, the entire system was brought on stream and is now in full operation, according to Insp. Steve Bogart, who oversees the CCTV operation.

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As was his vision, Jay Burstein says Elgin Centre will again be a happening place


city_scope_logo-cmykElgin Mall has wonderful potential according to the small, family-owned real estate investment company that acquired the 263,000-square-foot property in October of 2016.
At the time the mall was operating at a roughly 50 per cent vacancy rate.
Jay Burstein, spokesman for the new owners stated, “Our goal is to try and lease the vacant space as quickly as possible and try to make this mall the vibrant place it once was.”
A rather major concern was the large vacant space at the west end of the mall, formerly occupied by Zellers.
“We recognize the fact the former Zellers space is something we really have to look at,” admitted Burstein. “If we could find one tenant for that space, that would be awesome.”
Just shy of five years later and what is now known as Elgin Centre is again making headlines.
Preparatory work has begun at the very same spot in the shopping centre to make way for a $16 million, 95-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites scheduled to officially open next October.

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The elimination of long-term homelessness is a key goal of the St. Thomas housing plan


city_scope_logo-cmykHow do you determine what market value rent is? And, who determines that?
It was a good question from Coun. Jim Herbert at the Aug. 9 city council meeting and was prompted by the 2020 Progress Report on the city’s 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan.
It’s a question that has been raised in comments from readers of this corner.
Danielle Neilson is the city’s Homelessness and Housing Supervisor and the report in question noted the city owns and manages 558 units of housing, including 512 units of rent-geared-to-income housing.
That’s a significant number and it’s part of the role of the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department to administer and/or deliver “a range of housing and homelessness programs including existing social housing, new affordable housing, rent supplements, housing allowances, portable housing benefits, home repair assistance, homeownership down-payment assistance, funding for emergency shelters and transitional housing, and other homelessness prevention programs including the Housing Links for People (HeLP) program.

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‘As a community, we need to face this crisis. We need to call it out.’


city_scope_logo-cmykLast week in this corner we quoted from a letter Heather Stillitano, chair of the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy, directed toward Mayor Joe Preston and members of council.
She stressed, “the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.”
She went on to note, the opioid overdose crisis does not exist independently from other public health issues.
“For example,” Stillitano advised, “infectious diseases and other mental health concerns are highly associated with drug use.”
At the council meeting, Monday (Aug. 9) members spent several moments debating the implications of her correspondence.
Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands opened the discussion by acknowledging “I am fully supporting moving this motion forward.”
The motion in question isfrom BC-based Moms Stop The Harm urging council to endorse their call for the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and that the government “immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan.”

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Setting the switch to the appropriate track forward for the Elgin County Railway Museum


city_scope_logo-cmykProposed residential development on land currently owned by the Elgin County Railway Museum is an opportunity to revitalize that portion of downtown St. Thomas, stresses developer Doug Tarry.
He is proposing to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for a low-rise residential development that would front onto a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street.
We talked with Tarry on Tuesday of this week (Aug. 3) and he stressed nothing is carved in stone at this point as museum members have yet to approve the sale of the property.
He started by noting the museum is a gem and, “There is such an opportunity to incorporate how that building works and what it is being used for and how we can expand that into a real revitalization of the centre of downtown.”
As to what the housing would look like Tarry advised, “We’re talking apartment units and we don’t have a design done yet because we obviously haven’t bought the property yet.
“But we’re also wanting to bring our expertise to the table to help with the museum revitalization.”

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Three decades after incorporation, could the son of a founding father offer a financial lifeline to the Elgin County Railway Museum?


city_scope_logo-cmykPreserve a critical piece of property intrinsically linked to the city’s railway heritage or build 240 or so badly needed housing units in the downtown core.
That’s the question to be put to members of the Elgin County Railway Museum early next month.
St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry is offering to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for low-rise residential development that would front on to a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street.
The museum would remain, as would the transfer table to the east. Much of the existing yard track would have to be lifted to create a new yard to the north of the museum, maintaining the connection with the Port Stanley Terminal Rail line.
The offer is conditional on the museum receiving approval of the membership.
The reason for a possible sale of some of the excess land is to raise funds to go toward restoring the museum building – the former Michigan Central Railroad locomotive shops – while reducing ongoing operating costs.
Proceeds from the sale will provide seed money to access additional loans and grants to allow for the complete restoration of the building.

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So, who really is behind the wheel of the city hall bus? It may not be who you think.


city_scope_logo-cmykQuite 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?

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