Lots of red ink, but rest assured nothing will be written off


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With municipal councils in St. Thomas and Chatham-Kent having approved the merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, all that is required is the go-ahead from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), likely to happen late this year with a target merger date of Jan. 1, 2018.
Oh, and there is that prickly matter of a not insignificant amount of long-term debt run up by Ascent Group, St. Thomas Energy’s parent – city treasurer David Aristone refers to it as bank debt – and in excess of $5 million owed the municipality for the collection of water bills dating back to at least 2014.
It’s not a subject open to much in the way of discussion by either Aristone or St. Thomas Energy acting CEO Rob Kent. 

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City council gives green light to St. Thomas Energy merger; we remain in the dark on status of debt


Municipal councils in St. Thomas and Chatham-Kent this week gave their blessing to the merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus. The utility marriage now needs approval from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), likely to happen late this year with a target merger date of Jan. 1, 2018.
However, neither the city treasurer nor the acting CEO at St. Thomas Energy are forthcoming with details on how the long-term debt – reported to be greater than $20 million – and the more than $5 million owing the city on the collection of water bills will be accounted for in the merger.
St. Thomas Energy will become a 20 per cent stakeholder in the new entity, which will service close to 60,000 customers in southwestern Ontario,  making it the 11th largest utility in the province. 

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You have been forewarned, this ain’t her first St. Thomas rodeo


city_scope_logo-cmykQuestion for you. What’s a common factor in the demolition of a building and demolition of end-of-life vehicles? Well, in St. Thomas that would be Valerie M’Garry.
For nearly a decade, the London lawyer has steered her client – Sutherland Press building owner David McGee – through the court system, deflecting at every turn attempts by the city to demolish the structure built in 1913.
Twice this year, the hearings have stalled due to M’Garry’s ill health, but at the most recent appearance Ontario Superior Court Justice Peter Hockin left no doubt as to what lies ahead in the Sutherland Saga: the matter will be addressed May 24 with or without M’Garry.
“Mr. McGee should take that into account,” cautioned Hockin.

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Tendering process underway for St. Thomas Outdoor Recreation Complex


While ground is not expected to be broken until June, city council Monday tidied up some of the financial details associated with construction of the St. Thomas Outdoor Recreation Complex, to be located on Burwell Road.
In a unanimous move, council authorized staff to release a tender to pre-qualified contractors based on an estimated construction cost of just over $10 million for the multi-use recreation complex to be housed on a 65-acre, city-owned parcel of land.
Included in the report from finance director David Aristone was a recommendation authorizing him to submit an application to Infrastructure Ontario for a $10 million debenture.

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More sensitivity and less stunt when reaching out to the homeless


city_scope_logo-cmykThe promotion was called Sleepless In Our City, a well-intentioned fundraiser for the United Way of Elgin-St. Thomas. In capsule form, former MP Joe Preston and Tim Smart, the regional sales manager for a couple of local radio stations, were going to bundle up and spend the night sleeping – if possible – in the back seat of their respective cars. In the case of Tim, a Honda Civic.
(Full disclosure here, I spent several years as a volunteer on the United Way campaign cabinet and the entire team is to be applauded for raising in excess of $485,000 in this year’s campaign, as announced Friday evening.)
The media release from the United Way noted, “In Elgin St. Thomas, 20% of home owners and 42% of renters were spending more than 30% of their household income on shelter costs.”

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Nothing says summer like a circus under the big top


city_scope_logo-cmykThere’s no denying he’s chuffed an authentic, European-style circus will entertain at a dozen performances this summer in St. Thomas. But what really has Sean Dyke pumped is the big top tent under which it will perform.
Massive may be a more apt descriptor. The tent is 16,000 square feet in size, holds in excess 0f 2,000 in grandstand seating and 1,000 for catered events. The stage measures 1,260 square feet.
Now those are numbers the general manager over at St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation can really sink this teeth into. A tent with those dimensions shouts possibilities.
Of course the touring Canadian-Swiss Dream Circus – billed on its website as “incredible displays of acrobatic, balance, aerial stunts and thrilling acts” – will occupy the Railway City Big Top for two weekends in August, that’s a done deal.

Time to come clean: are water bill payments keeping Ascent afloat?


city_scope_logo-cmykA troubling state of affairs when your water bill payment appears to be the only thing keeping Ascent/St. Thomas Energy afloat.

Of much greater concern is the lack of transparency at city hall and the lack of due diligence on the part of city council.

Let’s start in the finance department where we appear to caught director of finance David Aristone in an awkward moment.

Exactly one year ago, when council dealt with the 2014 consolidated financial statements, that document revealed Ascent Group – 100 per cent owners of St. Thomas Energy – rang up an operating loss of $6.8 million. That compared with a $1.4 million profit in 2013. Continue reading