2020 St. Thomas budget outlook: Contract negotiations cloud the horizon at city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykMore 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.

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A tale of two schools: ‘The public doesn’t support us closing full schools to create a business case to open another one.’


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a three-year battle to save a couple of rural schools in Elgin, but in the end, it may have been a last-minute letter of clarification that sealed the deal.
Tuesday evening (Nov. 26) Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) trustees voted overwhelmingly in favour of rescinding a motion to shutter New Sarum and Springfield public schools next year.
The motion had initially been introduced in October by Elgin trustee Meagan Ruddock, with the support of fellow area trustee Bruce Smith.
After the school board completed an accommodation study of a dozen area schools, it was recommended four of them be closed: South Dorchester, Westminster Central, New Sarum and Springfield public schools.
A fifth, Sparta Public School, was to be repurposed as a French immersion school.
Several trustees had opposed Ruddock’s motion in the belief such a move could jeopardize the business case for the construction of a new school in Belmont.

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St. Thomas Transit strategic plan: ‘Any change is better than what we have now’


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city’s much-maligned transit system may very well become a greatly relied upon people mover if council endorses the recommendations of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Transit Plan.
The proposed changes would involve route and schedule adjustments, the introduction of demand-responsive transit (DRT), the possibility of larger buses and electric bus technology and a pilot project to explore regional bus service.
At Monday’s (Nov. 18) reference committee meeting, Brian Putre of Stantec Consulting and city engineer Justin Lawrence presented an overview of recommendations to members of city council.
The plan, which is 95 per cent complete, drew favourable comments from all of council, including the stark observation from Coun. Joan Rymal that “any change is better than what we have now.”

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A clear case of neglect, however ‘reasonable doubt’ lingers in the death of Lady


city_scope_logo-cmykJustice Glen Donald’s judgement Friday (Nov. 15) at the Elgin County Courthouse infuriated the fur baby fans in the front row but, in the end, he had no other option.
Following a three-day trial last month in which Tarrick Fakira-Martin – charged with unlawfully killing his dog, Lady – often wept and buried his head in his hands at graphic witness testimony, Justice Donald acquited him but noted there was no question the dog had been neglected.
Fakira-Martin was charged last July after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of injuring an animal on the trial’s opening day, Oct. 7.
Fakira-Martin has always maintained the dog drowned in Kettle Creek near an area known to some as Suicide Hill.

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Proposed cuts to healthcare funding will result in more downloaded costs to municipalities: Ontario Health Coalition


city_scope_logo-cmykPlanned provincial cuts and the closure of public healthcare services will lead to the Doug Ford government offloading more costs associated with these services to every municipality in the province.
That is the message Melissa Holden will deliver in a deputation to city council on Tuesday (Nov. 12).
Holden is a member of the Ontario Health Coalition in London whose mandate “is to protect and improve our public healthcare system for all.”
In addition, the organization advocates “to protect services as public and non-profit and to protect local accessible service on the principles that underlie our public healthcare system . . . principles of compassion and equity.”
Holden warns rural communities already suffering from a shortage of services will be particularly hard hit “as dispatch services and the governance of ambulance services would move further away.”

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The Provincial Animal Welfare System: Providing protection for the canary in the coal mine?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith a pair of high-profile St. Thomas court cases in the past couple of years dealing with abuse and neglect, this week’s announcement the province is proposing a new animal welfare system is encouraging news for animal advocates.
The legislation was introduced Tuesday (Oct. 29) by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and, according to a release from MPP Jeff Yurek, “includes the strongest penalties ever in Canada for people who violate animal welfare laws and a more robust enforcement system.”
No specifics, however, are contained in the release introducing the Provincial Animal Welfare System (PAWS) Act as to what those penalties may be.
“Ontarians can be confident that the government is proposing a system that will protect animals,” assured Jones.

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‘We heard more about Doug Ford than we heard of any other leader, including Andrew Scheer.’ – MP Karen Vecchio


city_scope_logo-cmykProving her inaugural run at federal politics was no one-hit-wonder, Karen Vecchio cruised to an easy victory in Monday’s federal vote.
She will represent the constituents of Elgin-Middlesex-London for a second term after garnering just shy of 31,000 votes, up from 28,000 in 2015.
Liberal hopeful Pam Armstrong was a distant second with just over 14,000 votes.
That is far less than the 17,642 gained by Lori Baldwin-Sands in 2015.
We caught up with a battle-weary Vecchio on Thursday for a lengthy conversation on her local success which was tempered by the failure of leader Andrew Scheer to power past the Justin Trudeau Liberals.
To open the discussion, we asked Vecchio about the strain she underwent running a 40-day campaign marathon.

“You’re going every single day from dusk till dawn. And honestly, the thing that keeps you going is all the volunteers that surrounded you. But physically, you are getting drained, mentally, you’re ready to go. You’re going, going going, but physically, you’re getting tired. But it’s really hard when one time I had a 93-year-old lady who coordinated 16 volunteers. You’re not going to say ‘no.’
“So, I just kind of went to the pace that my volunteers were at. That kept me going every day. Hard, hard, hard, and it was wonderful. I’m surrounded by really hard-working people that motivate me every day.”

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