At a luncheon held at the beginning of the year at St. Anne’s Centre, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston was nothing short of blunt when it came to the city’s bus system. “It leaves way too much to be desired. Our transit system doesn’t run on Sundays and it doesn’t run past 6:30 at night.” As those in attendance lingered over coffee and dessert, Joe reminded them the city has approval from the provincial government to help institute a full seven-day service operating over longer hours. That approval was delivered on August 8 of last year in front of city hall when Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek confirmed the provincial government is committing $1.8 million for transit projects in St. Thomas. The money will be used for fleet upgrades – including the purchase of 10 new buses with an additional four vehicles for future expansion – and transit technology, including priority signalling for buses at designated intersections.
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.
Is it a case of listening to the people or backpedalling in the face of stiff opposition? The agenda package for Monday’s (June 3) city council meeting includes a letter from Premier Doug Ford with regard to cost-sharing with municipalities for land ambulance, public health and childcare services. The proposed cuts to joint funding were to come into effect this year even though municipalities have already set their 2019 budgets and tax rates. The funding changes are a move by the Ford government to address the province’s $15 billion annual deficit and $347 billion long-term debt.
While most of his announcements – especially those involving big-ticket items like subway construction – have been held in the GTA, the province’s transportation minister was in the London area for the second time in as many weeks with details of new undertakings by the Doug Ford government. Holding court just west of the city on Highway 402, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek announced Thursday (May 9) the introduction of pilot projects that will increase the speed limit to 110 km/h on three stretches of provincial highways, including the 402 between London and Sarnia. It’s a two-year undertaking by the province to improve traffic flow and safety on 400-series highways and the QEW. Continue reading →
Back in February, city council got a first glimpse of what the Alma College property might look like through the eyes of Michael Loewith of Loewith-Greenberg Communities. He envisions a trio of seven-storey residential towers on the Moore Street property, with one of the structures replicating the front facade of the main building at the site of the former school for girls. His concept for the property is “to create something interesting and unique . . . something to last for a long time.” At Monday’s (May 14) meeting council will get a look at how the development would be situated on the 11-acre property and authorize staff to prepare official plan and zoning bylaw amendments to proceed with the project. Continue reading →
They deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the community, but staff at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association say they are struggling with their own unbearable stress. And now, members of OPSEU Local 133 are breaking the silence. Bolstered by CMHA members from Oxford, about two dozen staff took a stand outside the Centre Street office where they claim to be working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety. According to Carol Warner, OPSEU staff representative, St. Thomas employees are consistently targeted and penalized by upper management for speaking up about health, safety and other workplace concerns. “It’s hideous, it’s a long-standing issue,” notes Warner. “I would say it’s a systemic issue. We have grievances in the docket that are, at a minimum, four or five years old. And the grievance program has flaws as well. “If one decides to, they can influence how quickly or how slowly the grievance process unfolds.” Continue reading →
Neither of the combatants in the City of St. Thomas vs. Sutherland Lofts hearing was the star of the show Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse.
That honour went to his honour, Justice Peter Hockin , who had no qualms about speaking his mind, sharing his thoughts and guiding lawyers Valerie M’Garry and John Sanders down the path of least resistance.
Or as he stressed, “I don’t want to spin our wheels on collateral issues.”
Now remember, this is the same Justice Hockin who, in 2008, overturned a ruling from Justice David Little that gave the city the go-ahead to demolish the four-storey structure.
In reference to the boxes of evidence accumulated since then, Hockin cut to the chase. “Is it unsafe right now . . . there were recommendations of what could have been done but never was done.”
“You close down a school in a small town and kids suddenly spend hours on the bus going to other communities.” That’s an observation from David Thompson, chairman of the Near North District School Board in Ontario, gleaned from a St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce news release calling for a moratorium on school closures.
At the May 6 Ontario Chamber of Commerce convention in Sarnia, member chambers adopted a resolution “supporting a moratorium on closures and for organizations including the Chamber to be engaged by the school boards to consult economic impact.”
In St. Thomas and Elgin, the Thames Valley District School board will decided later this month on a proposal to close schools in Sparta, New Sarum, South Dorchester and Springfield. Sparta would be the first to close and then be re-purposed as a second French Immersion school in Elgin.
As if playing home to this country’s first elevated park wasn’t high enough honour, St. Thomas could be one starting point for an ambitious trail project – an undertaking pinned to the pending merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, based out of Chatham-Kent.
Earlier this week Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas, released details of what the St. Thomas Elevated Park will look like when the gate at the eastern approach swings open Aug. 27.
When the organization acquired the former Michigan Central Railroad trestle – built in 1929 at a cost of $689,000 – the purchase included 4 km of railway right-of-way at the western end of the structure running to Lyle Road in Southwold.