From 38 seconds to 90 days, living with unintended consequences


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city likes to refer to it as “unintended consequences,” we prefer a consequential collapse in communication.
We’re referring, of course, to last month’s surprise announcement the city is to proceed with a procurement process to designate new operators for the EarlyON system in St. Thomas-Elgin.
Community Living Elgin (CLE) has been the agency to deliver the EarlyON program since July of 2018.
One of the “unintended consequences” is the realization the city cannot possibly have the new delivery model in place for the Jan. 1, 2021 launch.
This is required to offer a seamless transition from the old model as the CLE agreement with the city expires at the end of this year.
And so the existing agreement will have to be extended into the new year in order to get the new operator(s) up to speed.

Continue reading

Is a new, permanent emergency shelter pivotal to addressing the homelessness dilemma in St. Thomas and Elgin?


city_scope_logo-cmykEarlier this week, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek announced $928,000 in funding to support the purchase of a new building for a permanent emergency shelter.
A facility Yurek noted that will be, “a stable facility from which dedicated local service providers can continue to carry out their important, lifesaving work.”
Such a shelter was one of the areas touched upon last month during a meeting between Mayor Joe Preston and downtown merchants who vented their frustration with the lack of attention paid to the plight of the homeless in the core area.
What Preston referred to as “solving the problems of the people causing the problems.”

Continue reading

When you’re not the public health experts then rely on those who are


city_scope_logo-cmykMy, what a difference a few days make in the life of the coronavirus outbreak. From little in the way of inconvenience to scores of cancellations, long lineups in grocery outlets and the mysterious disappearance of toilet paper from many shelves.
To get a sense of the state of preparedness at city hall, we talked with city manager Wendell Graves earlier this week.
He advised, “Last night (Monday) at city council, I advised them that our management team met with the Director of Public Health (Dr. Joyce Lock) to review what’s happening in the area and we are also upgrading our internal business continuity plans.”
To keep on top of the spread of the coronavirus, Graves noted the management team will likely be meeting on a weekly basis.
“We’re meeting quite regularly on it now,” advised Graves, “just to make sure that we’ve got a course of action in place.”

Continue reading

Mayor Preston on grants policy: ‘At no time did anybody come up to me and say would you please give away more of my money’


city_scope_logo-cmykWhile attempting to avoid treading water any longer on a definitive grant process, at Monday’s reference committee meeting, Mayor Joe Preston admitted he is “bothered” by the current process or lack thereof.
Obviously frustrated he noted, “a disproportionate amount of time has been spent discussing grants.”
To move along the dialogue, Preston announced the formation of a committee with at least a couple of council members on board in order to “write a proposal council can agree with . . . and bring this back in quickly.”
Curious as to the direction he envisions, we chatted with the mayor Tuesday to allow him to elaborate.
“I think we touched on the outer edges of what grants should look like in our community last night. What we have to decide is where are we going to land in the middle?
“I’m the same as anybody else. I don’t think we should go without an art centre. But, should the art centre be getting a set amount every year in perpetuity as part of their funding?
“I don’t know. We just have to decide those things.”

Continue reading

Groups think we have a process in place: Sorting out the community grants boondoggle in St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmyk

The item on Monday’s reference committee agenda notes, “The members will discuss the council grants process.”
Trouble is, this council and previous editions have not had a clearly defined method of distributing funding to community groups and organizations.
In particular, the last two rounds of funds disbursement have been an embarrassing undertaking, to put it mildly.
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’s determination of who gets what was likened in this corner to a “Saturday morning session at the auction house.”
The best takeaway was Coun. Gary Clarke’s observation, “Groups think we have a process in place.”

Continue reading

2020 St. Thomas budget outlook: Contract negotiations cloud the horizon at city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykMore 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.

Continue reading

Alma heritage easement agreement preserves the few remaining remnants


city_scope_logo-cmykThirteen 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

Downloadable app would alert and advise St. Thomas residents


city_scope_logo-cmykThe 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

Doling out St. Thomas grant money: the city’s own cap-and-trade program?


city_scope_logo-cmykCity 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.

Continue reading