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.
Recognizing the need to fix “long-standing issues with how hospitals are funded,” the province this past week announced an additional $68 million in funding to support small- and medium-sized hospitals in Ontario.
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek unveiled the funding boost Thursday (Oct. 17) at the CASO station, indicating St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) will received $1.47 million under the investment geared to ending hallway healthcare.
“Noting that it is a medium-sized hospital, the hospital has faced its fair share of problems throughout the years,” acknowledged Yurek, “in spite of its success in implementing the Lean program throughout the facility.”
The Lean management program – adopted by the hospital several years ago under then CEO Paul Collins – maximizes patient care while minimizing waste at the facility. In other words, creating more value for patients with fewer resources.
“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.
Earlier this month, council unanimously approved recommendations from the planning department concerning amendments to the city’s official plan to support hotel and apartment use at Elgin Centre (formerly Elgin Mall).
The report from Jim McCoomb, manager of planning services for the city, followed a public meeting held July 15 where some residents expressed concerns about noise emanating from the hotel, snow removal and storage, fire safety for the upper levels of the hotel and parking and traffic.
A traffic assessment study submitted to the city concluded, “the proposed redevelopment of a portion of the existing Elgin Centre shopping mall will not significantly change the existing roadway traffic volumes and on-site parking accommodation.”
It was noted a petition had been received signed by 40 individuals opposed to the proposal.
The question was posed recently by Peter Ostojic of Walter Ostojic & Sons Ltd.
“Just do not understand why the city is involved in building affordable housing units themselves.”
The former mayor of St. Thomas was referencing the community and social services hub now under construction at 230 Talbot St.
The subject was broached again this past Tuesday (Sept. 3) at the reference committee meeting in which city manager Wendell Graves updated council on Phase 2 of the project, which will front onto Queen Street.
With Phase 1 nearing completion this fall – “something Graves described as a shiny, new nickel for us” – he presented a conceptual business case to council members.
The structure would contain a minimum of 48 housing units on two floors with the possibility of more units should the structure be expanded to a third or fourth floor.
The estimated cost of constructing each unit is $225,000 with 24 of them renting out at $500 or so per month and another 24 geared to income at approximately $300 per month.
An ambitious construction schedule this month along the St. Thomas Elevated Park is resulting in transformative development closer aligned to the final design.
This beehive of activity meant the closure of the park atop the Michigan Central Railroad bridge during August.
And now, due to unforeseen delays, it has resulted in the cancellation of the annual Elevated Picnic scheduled for tomorrow (Aug. 25).
We caught up with On Track St. Thomas director Serge Lavoie hard at work in the park for an update.
“Because the construction schedule was slipping, we felt it wasn’t going to be safe enough to do the picnic,” advised Lavoie.
“What we’re doing instead is a grand opening on Sept. 14,” added Lavoie, “which coincides with an event the city and the health unit are doing called Trails Open St. Thomas.”
The following scenario is, no doubt, familiar to residents of the Lake Margaret area.
Some time back, when you purchased your dream home in the ideally located subdivision, you signed a restrictive covenant – an agreement between you and Doug Tarry Limited – which stated “the purchaser shall not use any building erected on a lot for any other purpose than as a private residence and no such building shall be used for the purpose of a profession, trade, employment or business of any description.”
The covenant went on to warn, “the purchaser will not park or store on any lot any trucks of greater than 3/4 ton capacity, boats, trailers and house trailers or any recreational vehicle other than in an enclosed garage.”
Fair enough. An assurance of a quiet, safe neighbourhood in which to raise a family or retire as empty nesters.