‘An enjoyable couple of nights’ pays off for St. Thomas ratepayers


city_scope_logo-cmykPicking up from Monday’s 2021 city budget deliberations, council had directed administration to pare back the municipal property tax levy from 2.48 per cent to 1.5 per cent in deference to the economic impact on ratepayers of the coronavirus.
That request by council translated into cutting about $572,000 from the proposed capital and operating budgets.
Council indicated a priority would be to maintain as much as possible the tax-base contribution to the capital budget and minimize the impact on service delivery in the operating budget.
In other words, find the savings without cutting services.
To deliver on council’s request city manager Wendell Graves and department heads held a pair of meetings on Tuesday of this week to ferret out possible sources of savings.
As a result, council grants to community groups and organizations will be cut by $75,000 in the new year. Leaving about $210,000 in the grant kitty to distribute in 2021.
It was agreed to reduce Community Improvement Program funding by $200,000.

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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.

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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.”

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Getting ‘way down in the weeds’ with a new EarlyON delivery model


city_scope_logo-cmykOh, how those “unintended consequences” can come back to bite you big time.
While members of council were woefully negligent in their handling of the procurement process to designate three operators for the
EarlyON system in St. Thomas-Elgin, it is doubtful the report from Teresa Sulowski, supervisor of children’s services will be revisited.
However it would appear, via a conversation this week with city manager Wendell Graves, a re-think on portions of the process may be in the offing, if not already underway.

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In a mere 38 seconds, city council passed a motion that could result in a dozen people losing their jobs


city_scope_logo-cmykThe recommendation before council at the Sept. 21 meeting appeared straightforward enough: That council grants permission to proceed with a procurement process to designate three operators for the
EarlyON system in St. Thomas-Elgin.
Now, either the mayor and councillors did not fully read the report from Teresa Sulowski, supervisor of children’s services – it was two pages in length – or they failed to comprehend the possible implications of what she is proposing.
In any event, the opportunity was there for any member of council to seek clarification or request further information.
Instead, the far-reaching report was approved in a matter of 38 seconds with nary a question or comment.

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New hand at the helm of Community Living Elgin


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Less than two weeks after the results of a provincial review were released, the executive director of Community Living Elgin has announced his retirement.

In a memo issued to staff Tuesday, board president Robert Ashcroft advised Tom McCallum will retire at the end of December after a 21-year stint at the helm of Community Living Elgin, an organization he first joined in 1976.

Ashcroft noted Michelle Palmer, Community Living London executive director, has agreed to provide interim leadership in St. Thomas for up to one year.

Ashcroft praised McCallum for maintaining “a relationship with the people he originally supported over the past 39 years and watched them grow from young children to the successful adults they are today.” Continue reading

Excitement is good, trust even better


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As retirement announcements go, this was an odd one.
The Community Living Elgin memorandum popped up in mysterious fashion at the City Scope inbox to announce executive director Tom McCallum has opted to retire from the organization.
The timing of his decision raised eyebrows in that Community Living Elgin appeared to have fared well in a Ministry of Community and Social Services’ financial and accountability review, the results of which were released at the end of November.

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Over-extended reach ultimately hobbled Ascent


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the departure Wednesday of former Ascent CEO Ron Osborne, board chairman John Laverty takes over the helm on a temporary basis. It will be his responsibility to guide the process that will result in the hiring of an individual tasked with winching the utility out of the financial quagmire in which it finds itself to the tune of $14 million in losses and money owing to the city last year.
Not to mention its long-term debt of what, another $6 million or so?
We caught up with John this week and what many may not realize is the St. Thomas resident was a former public utilities commissioner who has been “kicking around the utility industry on the governance side since 1991.”
He advised the process of hiring a new CEO started almost immediately.
“We decide as a board whether we’re going to use a headhunter or not.” Continue reading

There’s always room for one more manager at city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykAs far as media releases go, Wednesday’s city hall advisory was brimming with corporate bravado.
“With its sights set on the strengthening of its leadership and organizational management, streamlining corporate financial management and the continued renewal of the Environmental Services Department,” the release breathlessly announced, “City Council has put in motion a number of strategic changes.”
What this declaration shamefully failed to include was three people would lose their jobs in the organizational restructuring.
Why the oversight?
Does their escort out the doors of city hall cast doubt on the true motives at play?
This restructuring is predicated, in part, by the findings of a curious report presented to council last fall.
The Dobbie Report — ostensibly an organizational review of the environmental services department — noted senior managers at city hall felt the lack of staff was an issue along with the need for more advanced equipment and technology such as cell phones and laptop computers. Continue reading