More investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining. That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year. With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget. Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year. That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.
Thirteen months after city council was apprised of plans to revitalize the Alma College property, members are being asked Monday (March 18) to endorse a heritage easement agreement with the developer, Patriot Properties. If approved by council, the motion would – according to a report from city manager Wendell Graves – “direct staff and the city’s solicitor to undertake the required administrative processes and make 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 of 96 Moore Street include a faithful replication of the north façade of the former Alma College building.” Should the LPAT authorize such an action, the heritage easement agreement would replace the OMB order on the land title.Continue reading →
The Town of Aylmer is already on board and now St. Thomas has the opportunity to partner with that municipality on the implementation of a community notification/alert system. Last year Aylmer, in conjunction with a pair of local industries – the Integrated Grain Processors Co-op ethanol plant and Air Liquide – entered into an agreement with ICEsoft Technologies of Calgary to purchase their Voyent Alert system. The firm’s website notes, “The flexible platform serves the dual purpose of alerting and advising residents during a critical incident as well as providing targeted day-to-day communication services.”Continue reading →
City council’s reference committee meetings – held immediately prior to the regularly scheduled council sittings – tend to be straight forward, down-to-business sessions with an abundance of information and plenty of questions. While very informative, they can be a tad on the dry side. Well, a dramatic change could be in order for Monday’s meeting (Feb. 11) which begins at 4:30 p.m. and will see members determine how to dole out community grants for the year. In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow. The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range. Last year, even with an attempt to pare back some of the requests, the city still awarded almost $330,000 in grants. For 2019, council has received funding asks from 18 groups or organizations seeking a total of $455,600. Some tough decisions are in order Monday.
Are we in or out? At Monday’s council meeting (Jan. 14), members will determine the pathway St. Thomas will take with regard to hosting cannabis retail outlets. The city has until Jan. 22 to notify the province of the direction it will pursue. In his report to council, city manager Wendell Graves is recommending the city opt in, but reminds mayor and councillors the municipality will have little say with regard to regulating the stores, while issues related to public health and law enforcement “will fall within the municipal domain.” The province will provide funding to assist communities to assist in those two areas. Graves recommends opting in based on feedback from city stakeholder agencies, a summary of which is included in his report. Continue reading →
In announcing his entry into the St. Thomas mayor’s race back in July, Joe Preston stressed municipal politics is “where rubber hits the road.” Three months later as mayor-elect, after a 550-vote win over incumbent Heather Jackson, Preston isn’t waiting until the Dec. 3 swearing-in ceremony to get the gears in motion. In a lengthy conversation with Preston yesterday (Oct. 26), he chuckled, “They’ve already started.” Noting the increased demands on his schedule this week, Preston continued, “The election is over, now let’s get going. I’ve got a fantastic elected council, so I’m already talking to most of them. I already had a great meeting with (city manager) Wendell Graves about where we are and what I need to know. And with a lot of different community groups who want my ear at the moment.”
We picked up the cause last week of a Lambton Shores woman whose father was a resident of Walnut Manor, an independent supportive living home in St. Thomas. In 2014, we documented the plight of the 14 residents of the Walnut Street facility who were being served such culinary delights as what was called pasta salad, consisting of macaroni and salad dressing. Or chicken wieners served on plain white bread for lunch. An advocate for the residents at the time, lawyer Elena Dempsey, described the situation in this fashion. “They run out of food and when they run out of food they concoct the most bizarre meals. I was told of one meal that consisted of spaghetti with instant mashed potatoes on top and mushroom soup poured on top of it.” Mmmmm, nothing says satisfying like chef’s surprise. Continue reading →