It’s a hot topic for a bitterly cold day . . . the effectiveness of snow removal efforts in St. Thomas. The debate has generated a bevy of comments, both passionate and bitter, on the Times-Journal website and Facebook page. The intensity of which hasn’t been witnessed since last October’s municipal election.
The manner in which Dave White, roads and transportation supervisor, defended his snow fighting strategy during Monday’s council meeting did little to satisfy members of council, not to mention ratepayers.
One was left with the impression the Jan. 7 snow squalls caught him off guard, as he advised plows did not hit the streets until after staff arrived for work at 7:30 that morning.
You would think when Environment Canada issued a snow squall watch more than 26 hours previous, specifically targetting St. Thomas, that all resources would be on alert prior to the morning commute instead of trying to battle the elements in the middle of the drive to work.
By the time the closing prayer is uttered Monday, council may well have adopted a code of conduct, not only for themselves, but for appointed boards and committees.
A sad commentary on how questionable the behaviour of some elected representatives has become over the past few terms of council.
“It’s a shame in this day and age this is a necessity,” bemoaned Mayor Heather Jackson on Friday.
However, the continual leaking of information discussed in closed session and the verbal sparring between aldermen Cliff Barwick and Lori Baldwin-Sands are but two factors that lift the proposed code of conduct into the urgently required category.
The mayor’s frustration was evident last December.
“Even this week there’s been another piece of information given to somebody . . . and they’re not even leaking the right information.”
In spite of its length — a mind and rear-end numbing four-and-a-half hours — the demeanor observed throughout Monday’s budget deliberations was surprisingly amicable and focused.
Faced with a property tax hike hovering around six per cent, by dipping into reserves and cutting back on contributions to those same funds, council was able to approve a 3.8% municipal tax levy.
All the while approving more than $300,000 in community grants to more than a dozen groups and organizations.
The real financial picture of the city lies not in dozens of pages of line items, but instead in the notes, advisories and warnings from treasurer Bill Day.
Tidbits like the fact the city has projected a 2013 operating surplus of $176,000. A figure much less than in previous years and chump change when dealing with a $110 million corporation.
Budget deliberations the last three years have been relatively civil in nature and completed in timely fashion.
With a preliminary tax hike of 5.9% in the balance for 2014, matters are likely to get heated, if not downright ugly, on Monday as members of council — painfully aware the municipal vote looms in October — whittle that number down to the 3% range before calling it an evening.
That’s going to take some resolve as council is faced with several ‘no-touch’ items that account for a considerable hit to the municipal property tax rate.
Land ambulance costs will rise $400,000 this year; policing at the new consolidated courthouse will add about $450,000; and then there’s the promised grant of $350,000 to the hospital revitalization fund — part of a 10-year $3.5 million pledge.
There’s more than a million big ones right off the bat.
And, don’t forget back in December council approved adoption of a long-term asset management plan — to deal with a whopping infrastructure deficit — and voted to include the plan in the budget to ensure sufficient capital reserves are available to fund the plan.
A young mother this week posted on the Times-Journal Facebook page her desperate plea for assistance. “I needed bread and milk. Quite desperately. I have a week left until I get CCTB (Canada child tax benefit) and I am almost out of both.”
She did what many in St. Thomas would do, she gathered up spare change and headed to the Caring Cupboard food bank.
On her arrival, she discovered numerous changes, including a new executive director, Janice Kinnaird.
The young mother had previously complied with the need to show personal ID, proof of income and rental information so she could receive much-needed food assistance in the future simply by arriving with an item of identification.
She was denied assistance this time out because she could not comply with the new policy of presenting full ID.