Council waffles on future of cemetery


city_scope_logo-cmyk
It’s proving to be a hand-to-mouth existence for St. Thomas Cemetery Company after it came up $9,000 short in funding from the city this year.
The board of directors had originally requested a $59,000 operating grant but on Monday received $20,000, to go with an initial instalment of $30,000 in April.
This money is applied to the board’s almost $200,000 operating budget.
The municipality began funding the company in the mid-1980s to avoid a takeover.
Council voted 7-1 — with Coun. Mark Tinlin in opposition — to support the cemetery board through reduced levels of funding over time. Council could also consider advancing funds for minor capital replacements and expansion in services if other financial resources are not available at the time.
What remains up in the air is how this yearly amount would be determined. Continue reading

Workplace harassment: ‘a dangerous point’ at city hall


city_scope_logo-cmyk
It would be fair to suggest the City of St. Thomas, as a corporation, be held to a high standard of excellence with regard to workplace environment.

In other words, municipal employees in dealings with their peers would expect to enjoy a relatively harassment-free workplace in which to conduct city business.

Well it’s not quite that cut and dried, as we discovered following conversations in the last two weeks with human resources manager Graham Dart and a city works employee.

“As an employer, we don’t have to guarantee a harassment-free workplace, because we can’t do that,” Dart pointed out.

“There is no expectation or requirement of that. But there is an obligation on our part — especially under the Occupational Health & Safety Act — that we address harassment in the workplace.”
Continue reading

A campaign promise better left unfulfilled


city_scope_logo-cmyk

The Jan. 19 council meeting in which Part 1 of the 2015 capital budget was unanimously approved is undeniable validation a new home for the St. Thomas Police Service did not play a significant role in the 2014 municipal campaign.

Members of council were united in committing $13 million to construct a purpose-built structure immediately west of the Timken Centre. It should be noted Coun. Jeff Kohler was absent from the vote due to a personal family matter.

In a presentation that evening by The Ventin Group, given direction by council to undertake the tendering process, a Class B cost estimate of $10.6 million for construction of the single-storey building was tabled.

A far cry from projections of up to $30 million floated in some corners during the bitter October election campaign.
Continue reading

Is a female MP in the cards for EML?


city_scope_logo-cmyk
It’s still a work in progress, however there now is the very distinct possibility late next year Elgin residents will be represented for the first time by a female MP.
The announcement Saturday of Karen Vecchio as the riding’s federal Conservative nominee sets up a showdown with former city alderman Lori Baldwin-Sands, acclaimed last month as the Liberal nominee in Elgin-Middlesex-London.
Fred Sinclair is seeking the nomination for EML NDP candidate.
Still on a high from Saturday’s victory over five other very qualified individuals, Vecchio noted the male-dominated federal playing field here is already in transformation.
“Look at our nomination, there were four women and two men,” Vecchio pointed out in an interview Friday.
“My campaign team is fifty-fifty. I find the party itself has become much more family oriented where it’s about moms and dads and grand-parents. Having a woman doesn’t change things.”
Continue reading

Candidates, be prepared to talk homelessness


city_scope_logo-cmyk

Homeless advocate Jason McComb has been in St. Thomas for much of the week as he wends his way westward across Canada.

On his Walking In The Free World trek for homelessness, he has met with Prince Charles and Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes and hung out with the Trailer Park Boys.

Perhaps his most productive meeting to date was Monday when he sat down with MP Joe Preston, MPP Jeff Yurek and St. Thomas Mayor Heather Jackson.

It allowed Preston to assert, “It’s time to get outside the same box we’ve been in,” when dealing with the homeless in St. Thomas and Elgin.

Preston continued, “It’s not easy to fix but it is easy to take steps.”
Continue reading

Narrowing the playing field on police HQ decision


city_scope_logo-cmyk

Whether you’ve signed the petition and support renovation of the existing police station or are a proponent of a new, purpose-built police HQ, you should be aware the picture came into a slightly sharper focus on Wednesday.
At the police building committee meeting at city hall, members were updated on both scenarios.
Paul Sapounzi of the Ventin Group Architects gave those in attendance a first look at what a new facility might look like on city-owned land just west of the Timken Centre.
The schematic drawings detailed a 30,000 sq. ft, one-storey building (with basement) which would face Wellington St. and complement the twin-pad arena.
The station, parking areas and outdoor compound would occupy 3.2 acres of the site, leaving 1.7 acres for expansion or possibly additional parking for the Timken Centre.
Sapounzi described the early concept as a work in progress that will be “in keeping with the needs for now and in the future.
“This is a test of square footage,” he continued, “now we need to get into details.”
Continue reading

Always room for one more in this club


city_scope_logo-cmyk
The city’s most exclusive club saw its membership increase by four in 2013. We’re talking about the Sunshine Club at city hall — those employees who earned $100,000 or more under public sector salary disclosure.
Mind you, it was a modest increase from 58 select members in 2012 to 62 this past year.
A far cry from the door-crashing rush in 2012 when the rolls swelled to 58 from 39 in 2011.
Breaking the numbers down, in 2013 city administration counted 14 in the Sunshine Club, up from 13 the year previous.
The police department enrolment actually declined by one — from 17 to 16.
At the fire halls, the ranks increased to 32 in 2013 from 28 in 2012. That means the fire department membership is greater than the police and city administration combined.
Concentrating on administration salaries only, the top wage-earner last year was CAO Wendell Graves at $165,900, which is actually down from a year ago at $166,315. Continue reading