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.
From the promise of a downtown fibre optic network to assurance the St. Thomas office of Entegrus is under no threat of closure, the future is one of exceptional service, according to the top brass at the merged utility.
The trio of heavyweights – including president and CEO Jim Hogan – appeared before council at Monday’s (March 18) reference committee meeting to update members as the one-year anniversary of the St. Thomas Energy/Entegrus merger approaches on April 1.
Their message was one of corporate goodwill. Everything’s going to be fine, Jack. The kind of pat-on-the-head pep talk you get when your share of the pie is only 20.6 per cent.
And, nary a word on why the city received such a minority share when it serves 30 per cent of the total 59,000 customer base.
But more on that financial skeleton in the closet in a moment.
When completed, it will be a big box bonanza for St. Thomas and area shoppers.
Rock Developments of Tecumseh, Ontario is proposing to construct two, multi-unit retail buildings at the north end of the former Timken property on Talbot Street.
The structures would sit on the south side of the service road into the existing SmartCentre, opposite the Canadian Tire parking lot.
The subject land is six acres in size and would be severed from the approximately 20-acre footprint of the Timken plant. No firm plans have been announced for the southern portion of the property although it is likely to include some residential development.
Rock Developments’ client base includes Winners, Best Buy, Bouclair, The Brick, TD Canada Trust, Bank of Montreal, Staples, Boston Pizza, Rexall, Golf town, Shoppers Drug Mart and The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) among many others. Continue reading
Following a year that saw a record number of reportable incidents and operating at minimal staffing levels, the city’s police chief is undertaking an innovative approach to maintaining the overall safety of St. Thomas residents.
That means putting more COP’s on the street.
Although, that’s not what you think and, no, the police budget is not going to absorb a beating.
The COP’s, in this case, are Citizens on Patrol.
The program – to be launched later this spring – is modelled after an existing undertaking in Brantford which provides “a visible presence in the community while fostering partnerships with Brantford Police Services, local businesses and residential areas, to identify and expand opportunities to deter criminal activity and reduce crime,” according to the service website.
The COP volunteers – more than 100 now in the program – act as goodwill ambassadors who “foster positive contact with members of the community. COP’s will act as non-confrontational observers and report suspicious behaviour.”
Director of Finance David Aristone has made public the 2019 proposed operating and capital budgets, with city council due to begin deliberations 5 p.m. Monday (Jan. 7).
As outlined in the budget document, this year’s property tax levy is $52.3 million, an increase over last year of 1.8 per cent.
The capital budget target for 2019 is $4,045,000, up from $3.4 million in 2018. Proposed capital projects involve $23.5 million in expenditures.
Some of the key projects flagged for approval include the reconstruction of Elm Street, from Sunset Road to First Avenue at a cost of $8.8 million, none of which will come from the tax levy, but instead from development charges, reserves and water/sanitary/stormwater charges.
Same story for the complete streets program, budgeted for $7 million.
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.
Question 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.
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.