Doling out St. Thomas grant money: the city’s own cap-and-trade program?


city_scope_logo-cmykCity 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.

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Can a local fix result in ‘a perfect case’ fire scenario at a pair of St. Thomas homes?


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Part 1 of this story can be found here.

City Scope has spent almost five years documenting the shortcomings at Walnut Manor in St. Thomas, operated by Niagara Supportive Living of Welland.
From meals described as appalling to bare bones maintenance and housekeeping to, most recently, an infestation of bed bugs.
Now you can add owner Vishal Chityal’s refusal to add a sprinkler system to the ageing facility which has housed upward of a dozen residents at any one time.
In the second part of our examination into fire safety at facilities housing the city’s most vulnerable individuals, we talk with St. Thomas Chief Fire Prevention Officer Bill Todd about Walnut Manor and Elizabeth Sebestyen, St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services director, about the options available for the city to protect residents of these unsprinklered group homes. Continue reading

After a close call at Caressant Care, will the fire focus shift to a pair of non-sprinklered facilities in St. Thomas?


city_scope_logo-cmykAlthough one resident remains hospitalized, the Jan. 26 fire at Caressant Care, Bonnie Place in St. Thomas is being called “a perfect case” where the sprinkler system worked, firefighters were on the scene within four minutes and staff and residents had participated in a practice fire drill less than three months previous.
The late-evening blaze sent seven people to hospital, including four residents, two staff and a firefighter. All have been released with the exception of one resident who remains in critical condition.
But, what if that blaze had, instead, broken out in either one of a pair of facilities that appear to have fallen through various cracks? Continue reading

Charting the pathway to demolition and freedom for the hostages


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter nine years, the city finally benefits from a legal determination the Sutherland Press building is, indeed, unsafe but does the ruling from Justice Peter Hockin mean the hostage taking in St. Thomas is nearing a conclusion?
The city has chosen to take a cautious approach, something it can’t be faulted on after a 2008 ruling from Justice David Little triggered partial demolition of the top floor of the four-storey structure. A process halted almost immediately by the same Justice Hockin.
What is most frustrating is the continued lack of movement on the part of owner David McGee since the June 28 decision that upheld a pair of city work orders. Attempts by McGee and his lawyer, Valerie M’Garry, to convince both Hockin and city staff that the financial picture had somehow improved – to the tune of $50,000 – were laughable. 
Surely the unpaid bills would gobble that up in prompt fashion.
M’Garry had indicated to this corner the next step would be dialogue with the city on moving forward.
So, how is that working out?

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A new beginning, but about the ending


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It’s a new beginning for Tara Hall. The 36-bed, adult assisted-living home dating back to 1988 on Chester St., is under new ownership and is now re-branded as New Beginnings Residence.
Late last year we dwelt with the domiciliary hostel, one of several unregulated residences in St. Thomas that provide board or lodging for vulnerable individuals who need supervision of their daily living activities.
The facility currently is on a month-to-month contract with the city for the provision of lodging and late last year, the situation with Tara Hall and previous owner Jim Akey was the topic of discussion behind closed doors.
We had a lengthy discussion with new owner John Gaspar, who operates four other residences across the province.
“When taking over the place, I was surprised there was a level of violence and a bit of chaos,” Gaspar admits.
“Doing further investigation,” he continues, “there were some agencies, and even the police, that were not happy with some of the rumors about what was going on in the place. So, I wanted to make a clear and fresh start and let the community know this was a new beginning and hence the name.
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Derelict building a reminder of dirty politics


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Contained in Monday’s agenda was a petition expressing concerns about the derelict building at 80 St. Catherine St., a structure referred to as “a dangerous eyesore.”
Area resident Sally Nickson was allowed to address council in an effort to paint a picture of the five-unit apartment building that has stood vacant for over a year.
As is often the case, there is more to this story than meets the eye.
And, the leading characters in this saga appeared prominently in this corner two weeks ago.
As best as we can determine, the crumbling structure may very well be owned by none other than David McGee. You may know him as the absentee owner of the equally forlorn Sutherland Press building.
Several attempts this week to contact McGee to confirm his involvement – or lack thereof – proved fruitless. Continue reading