The past few days were a good news/bad news rollercoaster ride for the St. Thomas Police Service.
On the positive side, the service was the recipient of $870,000 in provincial dollars under the new Community Safety and Policing (CSP) Grant program over the next three years.
In total, the province is investing $195 million in the initiative.
According to a media release announcing the investment, the police service “is collaborating with several community agencies to better support survivors of human trafficking as they go through the investigative process.
“The funding will help provide ongoing training to enhance frontline officers’ knowledge and abilities in supporting survivors, add a new Street Crimes police officer, provide the necessary resources to maintain the position of Technological Crimes Investigator and help develop a social media awareness campaign to encourage the public to be an active police partner on the issue of human trafficking.”
More investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining.
That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year.
With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget.
Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year.
That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.
For the second time in less than a month, Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands failed in her bid to have council endorse a motion to declare a climate emergency in the city.
So, you have to ask what is the motivation behind this motion that Baldwin-Sands admits is purely symbolic in nature?
Well, if you were one of the several dozen supporters in the public gallery Monday (April 15) and you listened objectively to what was espoused by seven councillors, the mayor and city manager, then you should have your answer.
The motion, tabled by the member of council who is seeking the Liberal nomination for Elgin-Middlesex-London riding in this fall’s federal vote is, pure and simply politically motivated.
The first report of the city’s site plan control committee for 2019 will be presented to council Monday (Jan. 21) and it deals in
depth with the application filed by the Sierra Group of Companies for the proposed Alma property development.
The Sierra Group is the consultant for Patriot Properties which is purchasing the site and seeks to build a trio of residential towers on the Moore Street property.
The development is to be completed in three phases and, when finished, would be comprised of 430 apartment units.
Following a pair of site plan meetings in November and December, the committee passed a resolution recommending council consider the application for final approval.
Patriot Properties has not yet purchased the 11-acre site from London developer Gino Reale, pending completion of soil remediation work and removing what remains of the former buildings.
The residential development would occupy approximately seven acres.
Are we in or out?
At Monday’s council meeting (Jan. 14), members will determine the pathway St. Thomas will take with regard to hosting cannabis retail outlets. The city has until Jan. 22 to notify the province of the direction it will pursue.
In his report to council, city manager Wendell Graves is recommending the city opt in, but reminds mayor and councillors the municipality will have little say with regard to regulating the stores, while issues related to public health and law enforcement “will fall within the municipal domain.”
The province will provide funding to assist communities to assist in those two areas.
Graves recommends opting in based on feedback from city stakeholder agencies, a summary of which is included in his report.
The increase in the service’s operating budget for 2019 is overshadowed by other departments at city hall – in the clerk’s department, for example, the budget is up by 24.9 per cent over last year – however, St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge wants to set the record straight on his request for a 5.4 per cent hike in his operating budget this year.
In a dollar amount, that’s almost $12.5 million, up $645,000 from a year ago. It represents about 22 per cent of the city’s 2019 operating budget. A figure that has held fairly steady over the past eight years, according to Herridge.
The line items that jump out are a 200 per cent increase in part-time wages to $105,000 and an 11.6 per cent bump in overtime/stat pay to $202,000.
But keep in mind also, as Herridge noted prior to Monday’s special meeting of council to begin budget deliberations, 94 per cent of the police service operational budget is eaten up by wages and benefits, something over which he has no control.
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.