Monday night (June 21), city council is expected to declare Mark Tinlin’s seat officially vacant after his death on June 13 at the age of 79. It is the second time in just over a year that members of council have gone through this emotional process. In March of last year, council was faced with the death of second-term councillor Linda Stevenson. Former councillor Steve Wookey was appointed to fill the vacant seat. The process has not always been that seamless as we’ll delve into shortly. Born and raised in St. Thomas, Tinlin was characterized as a “great role model for the rest of us,” by Mayor Joe Preston. He graduated from the Ontario Police College north of Aylmer in 1963 and served with the London Police Service from 1962 through 1966. He spent five years with the RCMP and over 20 years guiding security at universities. His municipal career included stints as a councillor and deputy mayor of the Township of South Frontenac. He was first elected to city council in 2014 as an alderman. Preston had high praise for Tinlin.
While the new COVID-19 case numbers have retreated somewhat at the back end of this week, they remain disturbingly high. In the Southwestern Public Health region as of Friday, two key indicators are red-flagged.
The percent positivity rate has risen sharply to six per cent, with a number above five meaning there is widespread community transmission at this moment.
As recently as mid-October the number was well below one per cent.
And, the ongoing cumulative confirmed case rate per 100,000 population sits at 166.4 for the health unit’s coverage area. For St. Thomas. it is even higher at 169.6, although it has dropped significantly this week.
Any number above 40 per 100,000 population is enough to keep the region in the COVID-19 Red-Control or Grey-Lockdown zone. Continue reading →
The 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.
Earlier 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.”
While attempting to avoid treading water any longer on a definitive grant process, at Monday’s reference committee meeting, Mayor Joe Preston admitted he is “bothered” by the current process or lack thereof. Obviously frustrated he noted, “a disproportionate amount of time has been spent discussing grants.” To move along the dialogue, Preston announced the formation of a committee with at least a couple of council members on board in order to “write a proposal council can agree with . . . and bring this back in quickly.” Curious as to the direction he envisions, we chatted with the mayor Tuesday to allow him to elaborate. “I think we touched on the outer edges of what grants should look like in our community last night. What we have to decide is where are we going to land in the middle? “I’m the same as anybody else. I don’t think we should go without an art centre. But, should the art centre be getting a set amount every year in perpetuity as part of their funding? “I don’t know. We just have to decide those things.”
The item on Monday’s reference committee agenda notes, “The members will discuss the council grants process.” Trouble is, this council and previous editions have not had a clearly defined method of distributing funding to community groups and organizations. In particular, the last two rounds of funds disbursement have been an embarrassing undertaking, to put it mildly. In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow. The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range. Last year’s determination of who gets what was likened in this corner to a “Saturday morning session at the auction house.” The best takeaway was Coun. Gary Clarke’s observation, “Groups think we have a process in place.”
With the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes. Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief. While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters. In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council. Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”
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.
On the plus side – and there were few positive takeaways from Monday’s (Feb. 11) special meeting of council – the disbursement of almost a quarter-million dollars in community grants took less than 90 minutes. And unlike previous years, council showed restraint in not exceeding this year’s budget target of $261,800 up for grabs. In fact, it has a small reserve of $16,800 to be doled out at some unspecified time later in the year. Was the process a model of fairness and efficiency? Well, let’s hope the deliberations Monday afternoon do not become a template for the future. It was less a cap-and-trade bit of bargaining as we suggested a few days ago and more a lightning round of Let’s Make A Deal. Council protocol was abandoned in what was akin to a Saturday morning session at the auction house.Continue reading →