After nine years, it’s time to pony up and listen


After nine years of legal wrangling, a bevy of engineering reports, much dizzying debate over semantics and hair-splitting, we finally have a definitive answer from on high.
The Sutherland Press building is unsafe. That’s the determination of Justice Peter Hockin handed down this week along with confirmation building orders issued in 2015 and 2016 have been confirmed as valid.
All right, but now what?
City manager Wendell Graves advised the next step for the city is consultation with legal counsel John Sanders, but “In the absence of any action by the owner, the city will want to make the area safe again as soon as possible.” Continue reading

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Of Mark Twain and the London-centred school board


 city_scope_logo-cmyk“You close down a school in a small town and kids suddenly spend hours on the bus going to other communities.” That’s an observation from David Thompson, chairman of the Near North District School Board in Ontario, gleaned from a St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce news release calling for a moratorium on school closures.
At the May 6 Ontario Chamber of Commerce convention in Sarnia, member chambers adopted a resolution “supporting a moratorium on closures and for organizations including the Chamber to be engaged by the school boards to consult economic impact.”
In St. Thomas and Elgin, the Thames Valley District School board will decided later this month on a proposal to close schools in Sparta, New Sarum, South Dorchester and Springfield. Sparta would be the first to close and then be re-purposed as a second French Immersion school in Elgin.

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Market study recommends more retail in downtown core; revitalization of Elgin Mall


city_scope_logo-cmykIn the period 2000 to 2015, St. Thomas experienced an almost three-fold increase in vacant commercial retail space. That’s one of the key findings in a 2015 retail market study to be presented to council Monday.
The study, undertaken by Dillon Consulting and W. Scott Morgan & Associates, sought to “analyse the ability of the city’s commercial policy framework to support the health of its retail market, while identifying the evolving retail market trends that may affect St. Thomas.”
The city has 2.46 million square feet of retail commercial space – an increase of 15 per cent since 2007 – but in that total, 313,000 square feet is vacant, up from 114,000 in the year 2000.

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Roundtable on rural poverty: Is the province out of touch?


yurek-legislaturejpgIs the goal of this provincial government to encourage migration from rural areas to urban centres, as suggested by one Elgin county mayor? That was one of the issues raised at a roundtable on rural poverty held Feb. 24 at the CASO station in St. Thomas and hosted by Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek.
Attended by two dozen municipal and social/community agency representatives, the forum was designed to get a sense of what rural poverty is and its impact on St. Thomas and Elgin county municipalities, explained Yurek afterward.
“What’s available and what barriers are out there for people. Too often policies are developed in Toronto with an urban lens and we need to look at it with a rural point of view. It’s different living in rural Ontario and we need to have a balance in policies to ensure we can help get people out of poverty in rural Ontario.”

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There is a great disconnect on winter disconnects


city_scope_logo-cmykFaced with the inevitable, St. Thomas Energy this week voluntarily halted the practice of winter disconnects for unpaid bills. The decision was made a day before the province pulled the plug on such action.
“The OEB (Ontario Energy Board) has strict rules about disconnects and time periods and we have to offer pay arrangements and we’ve always followed the OEB guidelines on that,” advised Rob Kent, acting CEO at St. Thomas Energy.
“We are voluntarily agreeing to the moratorium on disconnects.”
The obvious question is what leverage does St. Thomas Energy now have collecting overdue bills during cold weather months?
“You do lose leverage during the winter months when you can’t disconnect, but what no one has really looked at is what happens when that period ends and the customer has a substantial bill? How do you help them make arrangements and get caught up without getting disconnected in the spring and summer months? That is something we’re going to have to address.”

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Better prepared to ensure change is coming — MPP Jeff Yurek, following candidate nomination meeting


The next provincial vote may be almost 18 months distant, but in Elgin-Middlesex-London the riding association and MPP Jeff Yurek are rarin’ to go.

At a candidate nomination meeting held Saturday at the St. Thomas Seniors Centre, about 100 party faithful threw their support behind the two-term MPP. The mood was upbeat and Yurek said there is no fear of an early jump out of the gate.

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Pencil-sharpening time as council tackles 2017 budget


city_scope_logo-cmykThe first of three 2017 budget meetings was held Monday at city hall with the second in the series on tap this coming Monday at 4 p.m. where the focus will shift to proposed capital projects and grants.

The 2017 draft budget requires a municipal tax levy increase of 3.44 per cent. However when you factor in an additional $41 million in residential assessment, that reduces the proposed levy to a 2.32 per cent increase.

Proposed capital projects this year total $36.3 million in expenditures. Continue reading