A hoped-for sane policy for community funding grants


city_scope_logo-cmykWith no sane or sensible guidelines currently in place, council is about to grapple with how it dishes out funding to community groups.

At Monday’s meeting of council, members will receive a report entitled Policy on Granting Funds to Community Organizations, a framework that should have been in place years ago.

No better example of the helter-skelter approach utilized in the past than the dithering this summer over whether St. Thomas Cemetery Company should be granted $59,000 in funding.

A debate that appears more grounded in personality conflict than sound financial sense. Continue reading

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St. Thomas Cemetery Company: Who needs to reach out to who?


At the April 13th council meeting, Coun. Linda Stevenson suggested members should revisit the $59,000 St. Thomas Cemetery grant that was denied during budget deliberations in March.

West Avenue Cemetery in St. Thomas

West Avenue Cemetery in St. Thomas

Mayor Heather Jackson stressed on several occasions Monday the cemetery had not contacted the city and she re-iterated, “I’m surprised we have heard absolutely nothing from them.”

However we have obtained a copy of a fact sheet provided by Lesley Buchanan and the St. Thomas Cemetery Company to Mayor Jackson and all members of council outlining in fairly detailed fashion the current situation. Continue reading

Council not unanimous in approving 3.55% tax levy hike for 2015


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By approving its Part 2 capital budget and the 2015 operating budget Monday, city council authorized a property tax levy of $47,040,822 for this year.

That translates to a 3.55% property tax hike in 2015, up slightly from the 3.48% proposed, yet less than the 3.8% tax levy in 2014.

The slight increase from the proposed budget presented last week to council during a public meeting at the St. Thomas Seniors’ Centre is accounted for in additional grant money doled out by council.

In total, $281,146 was distributed to community groups and social agencies in St. Thomas, much of that sum drawn from working reserves.

That figure does not include $250,000 to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital for its expansion program as part of the city’s 10-year pledge. Continue reading

Trash-talking councillor bags Downtown Development Board


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Hot off the press Friday: public sector salary disclosures for 2014.

Now the city hall figures were released earlier this month and to recap, a total of 96 employees earned greater than $100,000, a more than 50% increase over the 2013 total of 62.

Breaking that number down, 33 members of the St. Thomas Police Service are now included, up from 16 in 2013.

Over at the fire department, 48 employees earned $100,000 or more in 2014 as compared to 32 the year previous.

And 15 city administrators exceed that figure, an increase of one over 2013.

Topping the earnings list at city hall was CAO Wendell Graves at $172,372 ($165,900 in 2013). John Dewancker, director of environmental services, earned $139,693 as compared to $132,309 the previous year and Graham Dart, director of human resources, had a salary of $127,839 in 2014 ($124,784). Continue reading

A campaign promise better left unfulfilled


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The Jan. 19 council meeting in which Part 1 of the 2015 capital budget was unanimously approved is undeniable validation a new home for the St. Thomas Police Service did not play a significant role in the 2014 municipal campaign.

Members of council were united in committing $13 million to construct a purpose-built structure immediately west of the Timken Centre. It should be noted Coun. Jeff Kohler was absent from the vote due to a personal family matter.

In a presentation that evening by The Ventin Group, given direction by council to undertake the tendering process, a Class B cost estimate of $10.6 million for construction of the single-storey building was tabled.

A far cry from projections of up to $30 million floated in some corners during the bitter October election campaign.
Continue reading

Where’s the financial impact of new police HQ?


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The new council was walked through the proposed 2015 capital budget Thursday and they will get the opportunity to put their stamp of approval on Part 1 of the spreadsheet when it comes before them Jan. 19.
Part 1 of the capital budget proposes expenditures of $24.7 million. A quick comparison to Part 1 of the 2014 capital budget reveals this is more than double the roughly $10.3 million in expenditures.
What accounts for the apparent financial running amok at city hall?
That would be $13 million for the proposed new home for the St. Thomas Police Service, for which refined plans and drawings will come before council on Jan. 19.
So, if the doomsayers vehemently opposed to construction of the new police HQ are correct in their warnings, this extravagant expense will have a significant impact on property taxes — remember the dire prediction from Lori Baldwin-Sands? — and this should show up on the funding source page of the budget.
Continue reading