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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St. Thomas Transit strategic plan: ‘Any change is better than what we have now’


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city’s much-maligned transit system may very well become a greatly relied upon people mover if council endorses the recommendations of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Transit Plan.
The proposed changes would involve route and schedule adjustments, the introduction of demand-responsive transit (DRT), the possibility of larger buses and electric bus technology and a pilot project to explore regional bus service.
At Monday’s (Nov. 18) reference committee meeting, Brian Putre of Stantec Consulting and city engineer Justin Lawrence presented an overview of recommendations to members of city council.
The plan, which is 95 per cent complete, drew favourable comments from all of council, including the stark observation from Coun. Joan Rymal that “any change is better than what we have now.”

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New timber plant an innovation showcase for St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykIt will be the first of its kind in Ontario and, as announced Wednesday (July 24), it is to be located in St. Thomas with an economic impact rippling across southwestern Ontario.
At the Dennis Drive Industrial Park, the province’s minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski and environment minister Jeff Yurek announced $5 million in provincial funding to construct a cross laminated timber plant that will create 60 high-paying jobs.
The $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. Element 5 facility “will showcase the kind of innovation we want to see more of in Ontario,” stressed Yakabuski at the funding announcement.
Based out of Toronto, Element 5 has an existing plant in Ripon, Quebec which produces solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives. Continue reading

From community hub to municipal parking lot: Trading spaces on new St. Thomas childcare facility



city_scope_logo-cmykAs we noted last month, the city’s social services and housing hub springing up at 230 Talbot Street has run into what city manager Wendell Graves calls a “soft” business case concerning Phase 2.
Phase 1, well underway, includes office space for the social services department and 28 residential units.
Phase 2 was to include a childcare facility and 24 additional housing units on the second and third floors of the building.
In a report to council in June, Graves warned “preliminary cost estimates for the construction of the proposed Phase 2 project are high.”
He added, “At this point, the actual business case for the Phase 2 project is soft and the cost per residential unit is projected to be fairly high ($290,515 per unit).

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Awaiting the green light on an Elgin-Middlesex-London Liberal nominee


city_scope_logo-cmykWith just 99 days until the federal election, you might very well be wondering who the Liberal party has tasked with attempting to unseat incumbent Karen Vecchio in Elgin-Middlesex-London (EML) riding.
Well, the short answer is no one.
The nomination meeting was originally scheduled for January and here we are midway through July with no designated candidate although we know Lori Baldwin-Sands has filed papers.
Will she be acclaimed at some point in the very near future?
A phone call to David Goodwin of the federal Liberal riding association should result in some answers.
“They haven’t called the nomination yet,” advised Goodwin.

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Proposed Wellington Block revitalization: Over-the-top excitement or cause for concern?


city_scope_logo-cmykWhile one St. Thomas councillor expressed concern over further investment in the city-owned Wellington Block, an architect working on the social services and housing campus at 230 Talbot Street is “over-the-top excited” about the possibilities inside the now-vacant structure.
That’s according to city manager Wendell Graves, who updated council on the status of the former Wellington Public School at the April 15 reference committee meeting.
And, one of those possibilities is converting each classroom into a residential unit, with the wainscotting and chalkboards in place so that some of them could be live/work spaces.
Graves envisions a total of 19 units of various sizes on the three floors, with each having its own heating/air conditioning system.
Not all units would be of the geared-to-income variety, with a number of them to be market driven. Continue reading

So, who on city council is responsible for kicking around the issue of climate change?


I love my planetjpgFor the second time in less than a month, Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands failed in her bid to have council endorse a motion to declare a climate emergency in the city.
So, you have to ask what is the motivation behind this motion that Baldwin-Sands admits is purely symbolic in nature?
Well, if you were one of the several dozen supporters in the public gallery Monday (April 15) and you listened objectively to what was espoused by seven councillors, the mayor and city manager, then you should have your answer.
The motion, tabled by the member of council who is seeking the Liberal nomination for Elgin-Middlesex-London riding in this fall’s federal vote is, pure and simply politically motivated.

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