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.”
He’s the longest-serving mayor/alderman/councillor currently in St. Thomas and earlier this month, Jeff Kohler declared his intention to seek another four-year term on city council. Kohler has served in that capacity since 2010, but his introduction to municipal politics is a story unto itself. He first threw his hat into the ring in 1997 and finished as third runner-up in that year’s municipal vote. Referencing Eric Bunnell’s People column from April of 2000, Ald. Helen Cole had announced her resignation and council met behind closed doors to unanimously agree Kohler should fill the vacant seat. The top vote-getter in 1997, Terry Shackelton had already moved on to council and the next hopeful in line, former alderman Hugh Shields, declined the appointment to council.
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.
When completed, it will be a big box bonanza for St. Thomas and area shoppers. Rock Developments of Tecumseh, Ontario is proposing to construct two, multi-unit retail buildings at the north end of the former Timken property on Talbot Street. The structures would sit on the south side of the service road into the existing SmartCentre, opposite the Canadian Tire parking lot. The subject land is six acres in size and would be severed from the approximately 20-acre footprint of the Timken plant. No firm plans have been announced for the southern portion of the property although it is likely to include some residential development. Rock Developments’ client base includes Winners, Best Buy, Bouclair, The Brick, TD Canada Trust, Bank of Montreal, Staples, Boston Pizza, Rexall, Golf town, Shoppers Drug Mart and The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) among many others. Continue reading →
The recent merger of Ascent/St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus Powerlines appears to have done little to unplug the city from controversial business decisions previously undertaken by the utility. As a case in point, on Monday (Oct. 15), the city was named in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. The City of St. Thomas, Ascent Renewables, Ascent Group Inc, Ascent Energy Services and a numbered company, 2154310 Ontario Inc., are being sued for general damages in the amount of $7,850,000 by a numbered company, 1787868, operating as Focus Group based in London. The statement of claim was filed at the Elgin County Courthouse. All of the defendants are ultimately owned and controlled by the city. According to the claim, nearly 20 years ago the city undertook an initiative identified as “Partners in Power.” Through its ownership and funding provided by St. Thomas Energy Inc., the city created a series of corporations to allow it to attempt to capitalize on growth opportunities and become more involved in the growing renewable energy sector. These corporations included Ascent Energy Services Inc. (formerly known as St. Thomas Energy Services Inc., STESI) and Ascent Group Inc. (formerly known as St. Thomas Holding Inc., STHI). These companies operated under the name Ascent Group, with all shares controlled by the city.
Any concerns about having to endure a lengthy dissertation from Rob Kent of Entegrus on the utility merger with St. Thomas Energy were quickly put to rest Monday evening. And, we do mean quickly. His presentation on the 15-month process to complete the merger, which was executed on April 1 of this year, came in at four seconds shy of two minutes. That’s right, two minutes, with little in the way of enlightenment or answers to the many questions surrounding what is more a fire sale than a merger. The city gets a 20.57 per cent stake in Entegrus Inc., meaning we will have little say in the operation of the entity. Continue reading →
Introduced March 7 at Queen’s Park, a private members bill to shine a light on how funds in a Ministry of Natural Resources special purpose account are spent was shot down a day later. The fund was initially established by the provincial Tories in the late 1990s, explained Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek. “Back in 1997, the Mike Harris government created the fund as a way of expanding licences across the province, but also letting the hunters and anglers have a say in how resource management should be done. However, handling of the fund has come under fire in recent years for the lack of transparency and questionable expenditures. Yurek spent seven years working with the Aylmer Stakeholders Group, representing landowners and farmers, to have the provincial Liberals tighten up spending requirements for the fund, which collects $75 million annually in licensing fees from hunters and anglers. Continue reading →
The governing bodies of the health units in St. Thomas/Elgin and Oxford county on Jan. 10 approved proceeding to the next level in merging the two bodies. Locally, the health unit is the governing body and so municipal councils in St. Thomas and Elgin were not involved in any vote to move forward with the merger, whereas in Oxford the county serves as the governing body and municipal council had to approve a motion to proceed. To be known as Oxford Elgin St. Thomas Health Unit, the new entity would serve approximately 204,000 residents. A new, autonomous board would be composed of four representatives from Oxford and two each from St. Thomas and Elgin county. Continue reading →