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
City council’s reference committee meetings – held immediately prior to the regularly scheduled council sittings – tend to be straight forward, down-to-business sessions with an abundance of information and plenty of questions.
While very informative, they can be a tad on the dry side.
Well, a dramatic change could be in order for Monday’s meeting (Feb. 11) which begins at 4:30 p.m. and will see members determine how to dole out community grants for the year.
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, even with an attempt to pare back some of the requests, the city still awarded almost $330,000 in grants.
For 2019, council has received funding asks from 18 groups or organizations seeking a total of $455,600.
Some tough decisions are in order Monday.
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.
It was a budget body slam last night (Dec. 18) in the council chamber at city hall. A bloc of five councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Heather Jackson as to who is behind the wheel on budget deliberations. Or at least the community grant portion of the 2018 city budget.
Councillors Steve Wookey, Joan Rymal, Mark Burgess, Mark Tinlin and Gary Clarke voted to adopt the budget as is. The 2018 financial roadmap for the city included a $60,000 cap on community grants to any one group or organization.
Jackson is opposed to a grant cap and therefore was in opposition to approving the budget as is.
She did a little politicking of her own by asking for a recorded vote so those associated with the Talbot Teen Centre (TTC) and St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre – two pet projects – would be well aware of her sympathy. Continue reading
Did you check out the notice in your latest St. Thomas Energy bill? Seems like the utility merger with Entegrus out of Chatham-Kent is moving toward consummation early in the new year, with the new entity to be known as Entegrus Powerlines.
I guess when you only have a 20 per cent piece of the pie you don’t have any say in naming the beast.
And by coincidence, the merger is the subject of a report from city manager Wendell Graves on Monday’s council agenda.
It’s chock full of legalese and ratepayers have the right to a clear explanation of what is about to transpire on the eve of the merger.
More important, what are the long-term financial implications because this appears to be less a merger and more a fire sale.
So, we chatted with Graves on Friday as to what members of council are being asked to vote on as our elected representatives. Continue reading