The Mayor’s Luncheon on Wednesday at St. Anne’s Centre could have been more appropriately billed as A Mayor’s Grilling.
Featuring Southwold Mayor Grant Jones, Central Elgin Mayor Andrew Sloan and St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston, all attention was focused on the latter in what proved to be one of the most lively such functions in recent memory.
All because of recently adopted Bill 63, the St. Thomas-Central Elgin Boundary Adjustment Act, 2023.
The bill allows for the annexation of a portion of Central Elgin to the City of St. Thomas so that the latter can assemble a 1,500-acre parcel of land to attract a mega-industrial project to the city.
It has resulted in a bad taste in the mouths of the city’s neighbours and many unanswered questions.
And so when the floor was opened to questions from the audience on Wednesday, you had to know what direction the conversation would take.
First to the microphone was former Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn who needed no warm-up.
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.
It was a particularly effervescent Joe Preston who took to the podium this past Wednesday for the area mayor’s luncheon at St. Anne’s Centre. Sharing the spotlight with Southwold Mayor Grant Jones and Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn, Preston was not only bubbling over with enthusiasm, but he also came in three minutes under the allotted 10-minute time slot. And, made a promise of better city transit by the end of this year, guaranteed. Preston opened with, “St. Thomas, what a great place to be the mayor.” He continued, “I have been mayor for little over a year and it’s been an extra-special time.” After thanking the city councillors, he observed, “Boy, do we employ some pretty good people . . . I’m here to tell you’re in pretty good shape. “We’re in good shape at being able to run this community in an efficient way with smart people doing it.”
As he stressed in his inaugural address on Dec. 3 of last year, smart growth in St. Thomas can be achieved through co-operation and open communication with neighbouring communities. Mayor Joe Preston reiterated that mantra Thursday (Feb. 28) at the State of the Municipalities luncheon at St. Anne’s Centre. Joined by Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn and Southwold Mayor Grant Jones, Preston stressed a healthy, expanding regional economy can be nurtured via a co-operative effort with the city’s neighbours. “We are much stronger when we all work together,” Preston advised the business and community leaders in attendance. “Will it be accomplished during our terms in office? Yes it will and we all are working together.” That need for co-operation and communication was one of four key areas Preston stressed need to be addressed during his term in office.
Faced with the inevitable, St. Thomas Energy this week voluntarily halted the practice of winter disconnects for unpaid bills. The decision was made a day before the province pulled the plug on such action.
“The OEB (Ontario Energy Board) has strict rules about disconnects and time periods and we have to offer pay arrangements and we’ve always followed the OEB guidelines on that,” advised Rob Kent, acting CEO at St. Thomas Energy.
“We are voluntarily agreeing to the moratorium on disconnects.”
The obvious question is what leverage does St. Thomas Energy now have collecting overdue bills during cold weather months?
“You do lose leverage during the winter months when you can’t disconnect, but what no one has really looked at is what happens when that period ends and the customer has a substantial bill? How do you help them make arrangements and get caught up without getting disconnected in the spring and summer months? That is something we’re going to have to address.”
Township of Southwold Mayor and Elgin County Warden Grant Jones
This past year, Southwold has been very busy. In a smaller community it’s important that we help business where we can and all the events and organizations within the community.
Rosy Rhubarb, our cornerstone festival, showcases Southwold and volunteer organizations within the township. This year Rosy is celebrating its 25th year. Because these organizations were the main drive behind fundraising for our new library, they’ll be hosting the grand opening on June 9.
The Shedden Tractor Pull continues to be one of the best pulls in Ontario with record crowds year after year. Organizers donate many dollars back into the community each year and they are one amazing small bunch of people. Around 5,000 people come each year.
Our Canada Day celebrations at Fingal Park are always well attended and we are planning a bigger and better celebration for Canada’s 150th birthday this year.
Last year we hosted our first Tour of Southwold by Tractor, which covered about 40 km. It was a great tour followed by a barbecue. These tractors are all at least 25 years old, with a few well over 50 years old.
The Shedden Fair is another one of our cornerstones, for well over 100 years now. They exemplify traditions that are a real heritage.
I am St. Thomas Proud. Why? Because of all the great and wonderful things I’d like to share with you. St. Thomas Proud is not just a tag line for those engaged in social media. It is now a key part of an award-winning campaign.
The International Economic Development Council Excellence in Economic Development Award for the first time ever has recognized St. Thomas with a silver award in the category of video, multi-media promotion for the #stthomasproud campaign.
The IEDC awards recognize the world’s best in economic development, programming and partnerships in marketing materials. As well as influential EDC leaders. Congratulations to our very-hard working staff in economic development, tourism and our small business enterprise centre for their continuous work in promoting St. Thomas as the best place in the world to live, work and play. Continue reading →