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.”

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


city_scope_logo-cmykThe 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.”

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Hospice for Elgin ‘is not a luxury item. It is absolutely an essential service’


city_scope_logo-cmyk“This is not a luxury hotel. It is an appropriate place for end-of-life care in a cost-effective manner.”
Coun. Linda Stevenson’s observation at the Jan. 16 reference committee was typical of the words of support from council members for the Hospice of Elgin, a 10-bed palliative care facility which, when built, would serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin county.
Trouble is, neither municipality has come forward and put dollars on the table.
Even though in September of last year, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott pledged $1.6 million pledge toward construction of the hospice at a yet-to-be-determined location.
Plus, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs. The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs.
Late last month, the county played its cards in the form of a letter from Warden Dave Mennill to city council advising municipal officials there resolved “to support the Elgin Hospice Group through non-financial measures but declined to offer financial support.”
In a conversation with after this week’s reference committee, he elaborated further.
“It won’t be financial support because we are tied to 2023.”
That’s when the county’s financial commitment to The Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is fulfilled.

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As St. Thomas positions itself for growth, the financial reality looms


city_scope_logo-cmykBy the year 2041, the city’s population is projected to exceed 50,000.
To accommodate this influx, the city will need to adjust its urban area boundary as part of a review of its official plan.
The city is undertaking – with input from residents – a project it identifies as Positioned for Growth.
The study will assemble the required planning and engineering reports to support the preferred expansion lands and bring them into the urban area boundary to designate for development.
Concurrently the city is identifying recreational and cultural infrastructure and the fire protection services required to support this growth in the coming decades.
Representatives from Dillon Consulting in Kitchener met with council at Monday’s reference committee meeting with a draft copy of its fire station location study.

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Hospice of Elgin: An investment ‘in more than bricks and mortar’


city_scope_logo-cmykFour months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin.
And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside.
In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice.
Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.”
Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.

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Backing the guarantee with a financial pledge, St. Thomas/Elgin to get its long-awaited end-of-life hospice


city_scope_logo-cmyk“I can guarantee there will be a hospice in Elgin county . . . during my term.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek issued that assurance last December and less than a year later, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott backed that guarantee with a $1.6 million pledge to open an eight-bed residential hospice to serve St. Thomas and Elgin.
Friday morning (Sept. 20) Elliott, who is also the province’s health minister, made the announcement at Memory Garden in Pinafore Park and added once the facility opens, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs.
The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs.

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Where your St. Thomas tax dollars are destined in 2019 (a lot are going to wages and benefits)


 city_scope_logo-cmykDirector of Finance David Aristone has made public the 2019 proposed operating and capital budgets, with city council due to begin deliberations 5 p.m. Monday (Jan. 7).
As outlined in the budget document, this year’s property tax levy is $52.3 million, an increase over last year of 1.8 per cent.
The capital budget target for 2019 is $4,045,000, up from $3.4 million in 2018. Proposed capital projects involve $23.5 million in expenditures.
Some of the key projects flagged for approval include the reconstruction of Elm Street, from Sunset Road to First Avenue at a cost of $8.8 million, none of which will come from the tax levy, but instead from development charges, reserves and water/sanitary/stormwater charges.
Same story for the complete streets program, budgeted for $7 million.

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Canada’s singing priest got the ball rolling, now the province’s health minister is singing the praises of a hospice for St. Thomas/Elgin


city_scope_logo-cmykAt one time it appeared to have stalled in its tracks and now a hospice to serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin has been given a guarantee of moving forward to completion.
The push began in 2002 with a fundraising concert for Serenity House Hospice, featuring Canada’s singing priest, Rev. Mark Curtis.
Thursday afternoon (Dec. 20) at the CASO station in St. Thomas, MPP Jeff Yurek announced he has received a letter from the province’s health minister supporting a six-bed facility and encouraging the hospice planning committee to submit a capital program application.
“After strongly advocating for a hospice in my riding, I am thrilled to receive a letter from Christine Elliott,” advised Yurek in a media release.
In the letter, Elliott stressed, “Building new hospice beds across Ontario will provide people with end-of-life care and support in a more comfortable setting.”
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Neighbourhood blight to be demolished in favour of seniors’ residence


city_scope_logo-cmykFor several years it was a pot-mark on the Wellington Street landscape. The burned-out hulk of the former Ramada Inn proved such an eyesore, Craig Geerlinks and Adam MacLeod across the street at Geerlinks Home Hardware wrote a letter to council in December 2015 pointing out “The building has been abandoned for more than a few years. We are concerned this blight on the neighbourhood, and the city in general, will continue with no end in sight.”
They concluded their missive with the fact many customers leave the store “having purchased home improvement materials, those customers look across the street and cannot help but be disheartened that their efforts at improving their properties are offset by derelict and abandoned buildings such as this one . . . Out-of-town visitors attending activities at the Timken Arena and railway museum drive past the remnants of this now abandoned building and must wonder about our community spirit.”

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