Perhaps the city’s alleged new community grant process isn’t quite yet carved in stone.
We wrote about the grant policy last week in advance of Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting where Dan Sheridan, the city’s director of finance, recommended members deny small funding requests from the STEAM Education Centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas Elgin because the money, according to Sheridan’s interpretation, is to be used for operating expenses.
Council heeded Sheridan’s advice but there was a notable sense of discomfort with the decision from several quarters.
Which, once again, opened up a debate over what is and what should the community grant policy look like.
Prompting this opening salvo from Coun. Steve Wookey.
“For the benefit of myself and everyone watching, I just want to review this very quickly.
“These grants are not meant for day-to-day operations. That’s where I have a little bit of a different assessment of it currently than the folks in treasury do.
“In my mind, the over-arching concept here is, does this help get something off the ground.”
A critical consideration put forth by Coun. Wookey as it could be applied to both funding applications before council on Monday.
How do you determine what market value rent is? And, who determines that?
It was a good question from Coun. Jim Herbert at the Aug. 9 city council meeting and was prompted by the 2020 Progress Report on the city’s 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan.
It’s a question that has been raised in comments from readers of this corner.
Danielle Neilson is the city’s Homelessness and Housing Supervisor and the report in question noted the city owns and manages 558 units of housing, including 512 units of rent-geared-to-income housing.
That’s a significant number and it’s part of the role of the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department to administer and/or deliver “a range of housing and homelessness programs including existing social housing, new affordable housing, rent supplements, housing allowances, portable housing benefits, home repair assistance, homeownership down-payment assistance, funding for emergency shelters and transitional housing, and other homelessness prevention programs including the Housing Links for People (HeLP) program.
It took a question from Coun. Jim Herbert at Monday’s (June 7) council meeting to get a sense of how people are handling newfound freedom at Lake Margaret. Coun. Herbert pointed out, “people don’t seem to be following the bylaws, you go by and people are fishing. How many tickets have been given out? Hopefully, it is settling down.” To which Jeff Bray, the city’s new director of parks, recreation and property management responded, “I can’t say how many tickets have been issued. I know bylaw enforcement has been out there and I can check with them. “I know the Ministry of Natural Resources has been very active there and they have been issuing lots of tickets. Bray continued, “On Sunday, I know that they gave a bit of an education piece to 10 to 15 fishers out there. They were 12 to 16 years of age.
Evident by the questions raised by a couple of councillors at Monday’s (March 15) meeting, the Alma College Square development still generates concern even while the skeleton of Phase 1 reaches skyward. While council did approve amendments to the plans for the three-tower residential development, unanswered questions remain. Issues revolve around traffic flow, the final colours of the structures, why the site plans seemed to be in a constant state of flux, Community Improvement Plan funding and, most puzzling of all, why was a Wellington street access to the former Alma College property nixed? Developer Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties, at times, added to the confusion, in particular as to what shades and hues the exterior of the buildings will wear. Coun. Jeff Kohler perhaps put it best when he observed, “I’m certainly not going to accept buying a red car when I ordered a blue one.” A reference initially alluded to by Coun. Steve Peters.
The 70 or so minutes discussing Southwestern Public Health’s sharps program this past Monday exceeded the length of the majority of council meetings in the past year.
And, when Mayor Preston wrapped up the discussion, nothing had been resolved as to why is it the city’s responsibility to undertake disposal of discarded sharps – hundreds of thousands of them each year – when it is the health unit that dispenses them.
And, that is not a misprint. In 2019, the health unit distributed about 438,000 of them throughout its coverage area with about a third of those being returned after use.
The health unit is proposing a collaborative partnership with the city whereby it would be responsible for disposing of the sharps at an estimated annual cost of $65,000 per year.
As Coun. Joan Rymal duly noted the city is already on the hook for about $100,000 annually for sharps disposal. The three or four large bins around the city need to be cleaned out several times a week because the numbers dropped off as opposed to the twice a month the health unit feels would suffice under the partnership.
This past Monday was a busy day for Mayor Joe Preston as he noted the city was able to undertake a decade’s worth of work in a day.
Preston was referring to the city’s three-year strategic plan setting out priorities, guiding principles, goals and commitments as laid out at the Dec. 14 reference committee meeting.
One of the pillars of that plan is creation of a compassionate community and the commitment to build an emergency shelter for the homeless. It is to be constructed in a single location and be open by September of this year.
Well on Monday the city released a blueprint as it moves forward on its compassionate community strategic objective.
It’s a sweeping paper with many more objectives than just a homeless shelter.
The most immediate action point involves the city entering into a memorandum of understanding with Indwell Community Homes to develop supportive housing projects.
With the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes. Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief. While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters. In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council. Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”
The question was posed recently by Peter Ostojic of Walter Ostojic & Sons Ltd. “Just do not understand why the city is involved in building affordable housing units themselves.” The former mayor of St. Thomas was referencing the community and social services hub now under construction at 230 Talbot St. The subject was broached again this past Tuesday (Sept. 3) at the reference committee meeting in which city manager Wendell Graves updated council on Phase 2 of the project, which will front onto Queen Street. With Phase 1 nearing completion this fall – “something Graves described as a shiny, new nickel for us” – he presented a conceptual business case to council members. The structure would contain a minimum of 48 housing units on two floors with the possibility of more units should the structure be expanded to a third or fourth floor. The estimated cost of constructing each unit is $225,000 with 24 of them renting out at $500 or so per month and another 24 geared to income at approximately $300 per month.
In the end, the allure of economic opportunity prevailed over health and policing concerns. It was not unanimous, however, city council last night (Jan. 14) voted 6-2 to opt into the province’s cannabis retail outlet program. Councillors Jeff Kohler and Mark Tinlin were opposed while Gary Clarke was absent for the vote. Giving the green light to one or more retail outlets in St. Thomas doesn’t mean a pot shop will sprout up on a city street any time soon. Last month the province reversed course and announced it will limit the number of initial licences to 25 because of cannabis supply shortages. And last Friday (Jan. 11) in the opening round of the cannabis retail lottery, 25 winning applicants were announced – seven in southwestern Ontario – who now have the opportunity to apply for a provincial retail licence. Continue reading →