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 reprieve for now, but prepare for pencil sharpening next year on city budget


city_scope_logo-cmykIs it a case of listening to the people or backpedalling in the face of stiff opposition?
The agenda package for Monday’s (June 3) city council meeting includes a letter from Premier Doug Ford with regard to cost-sharing with municipalities for land ambulance, public health and childcare services.
The proposed cuts to joint funding were to come into effect this year even though municipalities have already set their 2019 budgets and tax rates.
The funding changes are a move by the Ford government to address the province’s $15 billion annual deficit and $347 billion long-term debt.

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MPP Jeff Yurek is on the hunt for honesty when doling out MNR funds


city_scope_logo-cmykIntroduced March 7 at Queen’s Park, a private members bill to shine a light on how funds in a Ministry of Natural Resources special purpose account are spent was shot down a day later.
The fund was initially established by the provincial Tories in the late 1990s, explained Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek.
“Back in 1997, the Mike Harris government created the fund as a way of expanding licences across the province, but also letting the hunters and anglers have a say in how resource management should be done.
However, handling of the fund has come under fire in recent years for the lack of transparency and questionable expenditures.
Yurek spent seven years working with the Aylmer Stakeholders Group, representing landowners and farmers, to have the provincial Liberals tighten up spending requirements for the fund, which collects $75 million annually in licensing fees from hunters and anglers. Continue reading

Sutherland Saga: ‘The court costs may have exceeded the costs of repair’


city_scope_logo-cmykNeither of the combatants in the City of St. Thomas vs. Sutherland Lofts hearing was the star of the show Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse.
That honour went to his honour, Justice Peter Hockin , who had no qualms about speaking his mind, sharing his thoughts and guiding lawyers Valerie M’Garry and John Sanders down the path of least resistance.
Or as he stressed, “I don’t want to spin our wheels on collateral issues.”
Now remember, this is the same Justice Hockin who, in 2008, overturned a ruling from Justice David Little that gave the city the go-ahead to demolish the four-storey structure.
In reference to the boxes of evidence accumulated since then, Hockin cut to the chase. “Is it unsafe right now . . . there were recommendations of what could have been done but never was done.”

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Complete Streets: Paving the way forward


city_scope_logo-cmykEndorsed Monday by city council, the Complete Street guidelines are “”a shift in mindset from the historical car-centric streets to modern multi-purpose streets that appropriately support all modes of transportation,” advised David Jackson, the city’s manager of capital works.

It’s an ambitious blueprint for the future with an aim to design, create and build streetscapes that accommodate users of all ages and abilities and all modes of transportation including pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit users.

However we could argue there is little clear direction on the latter save for continued road reconstruction to lessen the shake, rattle and roll that hastens the demise of city buses. Continue reading