It’s a tale of two municipalities and their respective leaders.
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston is ecstatic.
Central Elgin Mayor Andrew Sloan, on the other hand, is a lot more guarded.
Their differing reactions are in response to an announcement on Wednesday (Feb. 23) the province is introducing legislation to attract new investment to the 800-acre parcel of land east of Highbury Avenue assembled by the city last summer.
Oops, let’s correct that because the release from the province refers to 1,500 acres of land.
We’ll sort that out as we go.
The original 800 acres are located in St. Thomas and Central Elgin and have been identified as one of the most invest-ready mega sites in Ontario.
However, with the land divided between two municipalities with different permitting requirements, potential investors could face red tape and delays from unnecessary duplication.
And so the province has stepped in. We’re unsure if that was at the city’s request but we’ll try to sort that one out as we go as well.
In December of 2021, the partners involved in Project Tiny Hope – YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, Doug Tarry Homes and Sanctuary Homes – requested $3 million in funding from the city for the imaginative project at 21 Kains Street.
What will the affordable housing look like?
“The creation of new YWCA rental units will be inclusive to diverse populations from all walks of life,” advised Lindsay Rice, YWCA executive director in the support case for the undertaking released in December of 2022.
It is to be “A mix of one, two and three-bedroom rental units will accommodate adults, youth and families.
“Each tiny home will be equipped with a full kitchen, bathroom, laundry, private bedrooms and living room providing dignity and comfort.”
Just over a year after the release of the project information, city council will return to the $3 million funding request at Monday’s (Feb. 13) council meeting.
At that time, Heather Sheridan, director of St. Thomas Elgin Social Services, recommends council approve the request in principle, “contingent on a successful outcome from the Rapid Housing Initiative application process and the provincial contribution request.”
The Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference wrapped up Tuesday in Toronto. The city sent a delegation to the event with Mayor Joe Preston, Coun. Gary Clarke and city manager Sandra Datars Bere in attendance.
The city’s delegation had confirmed meetings with the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of the Attorney General.
We’ll deal with the former off the top as it was to address regional transit and accessible transit options, priorities for the city with the opening of the Amazon facility and the Maple Leaf Foods processing plant this year.
In a conversation with Preston following the conference, he indicated he felt “very comfortable” with the time spent with Associate Minister of Transportation Stan Cho.
Sitting in on the discussion was Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Rob Flack.
Preston zeroed in on the city’s pilot project which would see some form of transit between St. Thomas and the regional hub in the south end of London at White Oaks Mall.
How’s that water bill of yours? Are you going to have to dip into your savings or line of credit to pay the latest bill?
Some city residents have received much higher bills than normal and we contacted Jim Hogan, president and CEO of Entegrus. The city of St. Thomas contracts out meter reading to the utility who, we find out, subcontracts it to a third party.
According to Hogan, the bills have been estimated readings only for several months and those estimates do not necessarily jive with actual usage.
“It’s kind of a catch-up and a balancing between some of the estimates may be a little high and some were a little low and we’re working hard to get out there to do the actual reads, to verify the actual reads.”
The money collected is then paid to the city on a contractual basis.
According to the formal agreement between the city and Ascent/St. Thomas Energy signed in April 2014, St. Thomas Energy “will pay to the municipality the water and wastewater charges billed to the customers by the end of the month following the date of invoicing.”
She has yet to win a seat on city council and yet no candidate in the St. Thomas municipal election has more campaign experience than Rose Gibson.
This is her sixth run for the roses and, on that alone, you have to respect her tenacity.
In 2018 she finished 10th in a 19-candidate field, less than 500 votes away from knocking Jim Herbert out of the running.
Her first outing was in 2000 and she returned to the fray in 2003, 2010 and 2014. Of note, each time she secured more votes than in her previous attempt.
And that vote differential four years ago is the driving force in this campaign, advised Gibson.
“I have a good group of people who really believe in me. I think the voters last time believed in me.
“You know there is an area that you learn where you made your mistakes and I realize that.
In a deputation last Monday (Sept. 12) to city council she stressed was devoid of “ill will, malintent or hidden agenda,” Hilary Vaughan hit one out of the park with her no-nonsense presentation on the complex issues plaguing downtown.
In a six-and-a-half-minute span, the St. Thomas lawyer delivered a tell-it-like-it-is synopsis, warning the core area is at a critical threshold.
Her closing remarks left members momentarily flummoxed. Vaughan made it clear she was not open to questions, instead it is time to “find a real solution, in real-time, for real people.”
That can be done by striking a working group to tackle the increasingly dire situation.
Because the picture she painted of the downtown core’s immediate prospects is bleak.
Note: Due to the death of Queen Elizabeth, the open house scheduled for Saturday at the CASO station has been postponed. We will update you when a new date has been announced.
At the end of last month, we featured a lengthy discussion with Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio on a proposed boundary alignment for the riding she represents.
Well, it’s coming down to crunch time when it comes to public input and Vecchio is hosting an open house next Saturday (Sept. 17) from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the CASO station to garner feedback from constituents.
We talked again this week about the impact new electoral boundaries proposed by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario could have on the outcome of federal and provincial elections in both St. Thomas and Elgin.
An important area that requires clarification is the adjustment to this riding and others across the country is not gerrymandering on the part of any political party, as is often the case south of the border.
A ceremony was held Wednesday morning on the steps of city hall to commemorate the third annual International Overdose Awareness Day.
Later in the day, The Nameless, in partnership with Southwestern Public Health, held an open house at White Street Parkette in St. Thomas.
That was where Anna Maria Iredale of St. Marys dug deep into her reserve of fortitude to step forward with her personal tale of tragedy.
We’re documenting it in its entirety as a tribute to Anna Maria and her son.
That’s a photo of him below and every picture does tell a story. This one is well worth the time and effort it takes to absorb.
It’s now a three-horse mayoral race in the Oct. 24 St. Thomas municipal vote. Joining Joe Preston is former mayor Heather Jackson and newcomer Gregg McCart, who admits it’s a daunting task trying to unseat a high-profile incumbent.
However, McCart feels he may have an advantage in one area, that being his experience in dealing with homelessness in the city.
With reference to Mayor Preston, he admits, “I kind of like the guy, to be honest. But I believe that he is too far away from this particular problem.”
That problem is the scourge of homelessness, particularly in the downtown core.
McCart continues, “I don’t want to say anything bad, but it is my peers who are suffering the most, as far as income levels.
“And I believe, because of that, I have an advantage over him. So, maybe I can do something.”