Keeping ‘some semblance of normalcy in our lives’


city_scope_logo-cmykDo you have the feeling we’ve spent the last nine months trying our best – most of us, that is – only to find we’re right back at Square 1 with a shut down effective Monday.
A whole lot of one step forward and two steps back.
We spoke with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek on Tuesday (Dec. 22) about his government’s decision to wind many things down for a minimum of 28 days.
And, why wait almost a week instead of starting Christmas Eve as was originally planned.
“The key to the lockdown is to open up space in the hospitals,” advised Yurek, “especially the ICU rooms across the province. We’re getting almost to capacity and you need the space in order to have other emergency surgeries like heart, stroke, etc. open for those spaces.”
As of Thursday, Southwestern Public Health was advising of eight hospitalizations across the region due to COVID-19 infections with two of those individuals in the ICU.
“That’s the key criteria,” continued Yurek, “to keep the cases numbers down and open up capacity in the hospitals. The doctors have informed us four weeks should be a good enough time period to do so.”

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Spending it well on affordable housing for St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykThe magnificent edifice at the corner of Talbot and Mary Streets, formally known as the Mickleborough building, has had a bit of an uncertain future over the past three years.
It was the former home of Ontario Works before the city purchased it from London developer Shmuel Farhi in March of 2017.
It dates back to the early 1900s and was designed by St. Thomas architect Neil Darrach. Its appraised value at the time of the sale was $4 million.
Under the deal, Farhi Holdings was to donate $2.3 million in exchange for a tax receipt and the city would pay the remaining $1.7 million.
The intent at the time was to partner with the Central Community Health Centre in hopes of consolidating their operations into the structure that once housed the British mainstay Marks and Spencer in the 1970s and Huston’s Fine Furniture into the 1990s.
Added to its functions this year was transforming a portion of the stately building to serve as a day shelter for the homeless.
A far cry from the home of fine furniture.

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‘An enjoyable couple of nights’ pays off for St. Thomas ratepayers


city_scope_logo-cmykPicking up from Monday’s 2021 city budget deliberations, council had directed administration to pare back the municipal property tax levy from 2.48 per cent to 1.5 per cent in deference to the economic impact on ratepayers of the coronavirus.
That request by council translated into cutting about $572,000 from the proposed capital and operating budgets.
Council indicated a priority would be to maintain as much as possible the tax-base contribution to the capital budget and minimize the impact on service delivery in the operating budget.
In other words, find the savings without cutting services.
To deliver on council’s request city manager Wendell Graves and department heads held a pair of meetings on Tuesday of this week to ferret out possible sources of savings.
As a result, council grants to community groups and organizations will be cut by $75,000 in the new year. Leaving about $210,000 in the grant kitty to distribute in 2021.
It was agreed to reduce Community Improvement Program funding by $200,000.

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Talks begin next week on how to spend our tax dollars


city_scope_logo-cmykCity council will hold two meetings this coming week to begin deliberations on 2021 proposed operating and capital budgets.
The first will start immediately after Monday’s (Dec. 7) council meeting which begins at 5 p.m., with the second to be held the following day starting at 5 p.m.
As it stands now, the budget calls for a 2.48 per cent increase to the property tax levy next year.
Capital projects as proposed would require just under $41 million in funding and, if passed by council, would mark the largest capital budget where debt was not drawn.
Items in the capital budget recommended for approval include up to five electric light-duty vehicles as the city begins to make good on reducing its carbon footprint.
The biggest project at $10.8 million is rebuilding Fairview Avenue from Elm Street to Southdale Line.
Annual road rehabilitation comes in at $2 million and the ongoing Complete Streets program next year will require $6.8 million.

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SW Ontario lagging behind in job creation, income growth, warns economist


city_scope_logo-cmykA sobering report released this week that brings into perspective the impact manufacturing’s decline has had on southwestern Ontario’s median household income through 2015 (the last year of available census data).
The report’s author Ben Eisen, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, notes Windsor falls from 10th highest median household income to 25th while London falls from 15th to 27th (out of 36 Canadian metropolitan centres).
St. Thomas is included in the London Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) and so the report has important local relevance.
Eisen’s work covers the period between 2005 and 2015 and so it is a look back in time and the next census in 2021 may give a clearer picture of where we are today.

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Casting light when a council meeting goes dark


city_scope_logo-cmykFor many of us, we’ve settled into a pandemic dictated routine where our days are punctuated with Zoom meetings interspersed with live-streamed gatherings, exponentially increasing our screen time.
Leaving us to wonder how much of this will pivot over to the new reality?
But what happens when one of these feeds fails or the audio stream is so out of whack it is impossible to follow along?
It has happened twice this month with city council: once with a reference committee meeting dealing with community grants and again this week with the scheduled council meeting.

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‘We get this protest in, we move it out of town and do it as peaceful as possible’


city_scope_logo-cmykMayor Joe Preston and Police Chief Chris Herridge have both cut to the chase when talking about today’s (Saturday) Freedom Rally in St. Thomas: “We do not want this protest.”
It’s the third such rally in less than a month in the region at a time when the province is tightening up restrictions due to a rapid increase in COVID-19 infections.
In speaking with Herridge this week, he stressed “should they come here they could face charges.
“But if you say ‘no’ to the arena (Memorial Arena, where the protesters are meeting up) they’re going to show up. And, we do not want what happened in Aylmer (where the march through town forced detours at numerous locations).”

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From 38 seconds to 90 days, living with unintended consequences


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city likes to refer to it as “unintended consequences,” we prefer a consequential collapse in communication.
We’re referring, of course, to last month’s surprise announcement the city is to proceed with a procurement process to designate new operators for the EarlyON system in St. Thomas-Elgin.
Community Living Elgin (CLE) has been the agency to deliver the EarlyON program since July of 2018.
One of the “unintended consequences” is the realization the city cannot possibly have the new delivery model in place for the Jan. 1, 2021 launch.
This is required to offer a seamless transition from the old model as the CLE agreement with the city expires at the end of this year.
And so the existing agreement will have to be extended into the new year in order to get the new operator(s) up to speed.

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Is a new, permanent emergency shelter pivotal to addressing the homelessness dilemma in St. Thomas and Elgin?


city_scope_logo-cmykEarlier this week, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek announced $928,000 in funding to support the purchase of a new building for a permanent emergency shelter.
A facility Yurek noted that will be, “a stable facility from which dedicated local service providers can continue to carry out their important, lifesaving work.”
Such a shelter was one of the areas touched upon last month during a meeting between Mayor Joe Preston and downtown merchants who vented their frustration with the lack of attention paid to the plight of the homeless in the core area.
What Preston referred to as “solving the problems of the people causing the problems.”

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