Quite the surprise this week with the announcement City Manager Wendell Graves plans to retire next March. Hard to imagine he began his public service 41 years ago as a student in the Municipality of Central Elgin planning office. That’s according to the city hall media release, however Central Elgin was not established as a municipality until 1998 and as reader Dave Mathers correctly points out it would have to be a planning office in Belmont, Yarmouth or Port Stanley. Also, surprising is his rationale for the long lead time up to that date next spring. “The next few months will fly by and I want to ensure city council has the opportunity to plan strategically for its next leadership,” advises Graves. In commenting on the announcement, Mayor Joe Preston notes, “With our city positioned in such a strong, strategic direction city council appreciates the fact that Wendell has provided a good planning horizon so that we can thoughtfully recruit and put in place the next leadership for the City.” Did you catch the common theme here? Leadership for the city is provided by the city manager. Most residents of St. Thomas are likely under the impression the city is led by the mayor and council. After all, isn’t that why we elect them?
With all the knocks against the province’s coronavirus attack plan and vaccination roll-out, you have to wonder how much consultation there has been with the local health units and their medical officers of health? In fact, how closely is the government listening to medical authorities at institutions like Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto and other experts in the field on a safe back-to-school policy? You can point to the federal government for their handling of the vaccine itself, but is the shortage an easy target when your own program is likewise sputtering and subject to rapid and unexpected about turns? At the grassroots level our local health unit, Southwestern Public Health, is being proactive and has approached the city to obtain use of Memorial Arena as a vaccination hub. The matter is a late addition to Monday’s (March 1) council agenda. As noted in city manager Wendell Graves’ report to members, “Attributes of the site include easy access, good parking and the ability to map out an operational floor plan that would allow for the greatest number of people to be vaccinated as expeditiously as possible.”
As city residents transitioned from Christmas celebrations to life under a minimum 28-day province-wide shutdown, we chatted with Mayor Joe Preston on how this will impact the administration’s game plan for 2021.
Considering council and administration accomplished much in a year we would otherwise like to forget.
That includes a new transit system that will begin to take shape this month, the impressive number of building permits issued in 2020, construction projects underway like the residential development on the Alma College site, new industries like Element5 springing up, affordable housing projects and a new civic park project to be developed on the site of the former police headquarters.
Always upbeat, Preston began by pointing out city hall will remain open during this time while other municipalities have chosen to keep their administrative offices closed.
Sean Dyke, CEO at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., admits he is feeling a little handcuffed right now. We all know the feeling as we settle in for the long haul in the battle of wits against the coronavirus. We talked with him earlier in the week and in the intervening days, it seems the COVID-19 playbook has been completely amended. We started the conversation on a positive note in that construction is continuing on the Element 5 plant in the Dennis Drive industrial Park. It was announced last July the Toronto-based firm was to set up shop in St. Thomas to produce solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives. It will be a $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. facility with production expected to begin late this year.
With the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes. Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief. While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters. In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council. Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”
Director 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.
In past years, this corner closed out the calendar with a review of the previous 12 months through memorable quotes, often humorous and even insightful at times. This time around, with a newly installed council – which, after just a pair of meetings is proving more dynamic than the previous edition – we will peer ahead to the coming year and the corporate business needing attention in fairly short order. First on the agenda – with an initial run-through beginning 5 p.m. Jan. 7 – is the city’s 2019 budget. As outlined during the Dec. 17 reference committee meeting, the goal is to hold the municipal property tax levy to an increase of between 1.8 and 2 per cent. The capital budget target for 2019 is $4,045,000, up from $3.4 million in 2018. However, keep in mind council will have to wade through tens of millions of dollars in requests.
Deliberations begin 3:30 p.m. Monday into the proposed 2016 capital and operating budgets for St. Thomas.
In his opening remarks contained in the budget binder, director of finance David Aristone indicates at this stage of the process, city ratepayers can anticipate a 2.32% hike in the property tax levy.
The proposed levy for this year is $48,721,653, up from the actual 2015 levy of just over $47 million.
Proposed capital projects this year would require almost $21.8 million in funding. Continue reading →
In a deputation Monday at city hall, Pastor Al Stone of Bible Baptist Church urged council to deem property it has owned since 2007 at 320 Highbury Ave. as tax exempt.
Members sympathized with the request and a bylaw to waive the municipal property tax at the building where printed material is assembled for mailout could be in front of council as early as Monday.
Council was not unanimous in its decision and this corner approached Coun. Joan Rymal to ascertain her concerns.
Rymal advised she had been in contact with Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) which is responsible for property assessment across the province. Continue reading →