He’s the longest-serving mayor/alderman/councillor currently in St. Thomas and earlier this month, Jeff Kohler declared his intention to seek another four-year term on city council. Kohler has served in that capacity since 2010, but his introduction to municipal politics is a story unto itself. He first threw his hat into the ring in 1997 and finished as third runner-up in that year’s municipal vote. Referencing Eric Bunnell’s People column from April of 2000, Ald. Helen Cole had announced her resignation and council met behind closed doors to unanimously agree Kohler should fill the vacant seat. The top vote-getter in 1997, Terry Shackelton had already moved on to council and the next hopeful in line, former alderman Hugh Shields, declined the appointment to council.
It has been a significant week for housing news in St. Thomas.
A pair of announcements mid-week covered off a broad swath of the residential spectrum.
At Wednesday’s site plan control committee meeting, conditional approval was granted to Fast Forward Ventures of London for their 14-storey, 162-unit apartment building to rise on the south end of the former Timken Canada property near the intersection of First Avenue and Talbot Street.
The Timken plant closed in 2013 and was demolished and the site cleared in 2017.
The next day, the province announced $3 million in funding to develop 20 supportive housing units inside Phase 2 of the city’s social services and housing hub now under construction at 16 Queen Street.
Let’s take a closer look at both developments – which Mayor Joe Preston described as “one more step in attacking the city’s housing shortage.”
As is the case with so many things in life, it all becomes a matter of timing. And so, three-and-a-half years after losing to Joe Preston by less than 650 votes in the 2018 St. Thomas municipal vote as she sought a third term as mayor, Heather Jackson asserts the time is right to return to politics.
In this case, she is on the verge of being acclaimed as Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial election.
Her candidacy will become official before the end of the month, and it is not without some controversy (see the following item).
“It’s all about timing,” advised Jackson, “and I think it’s a good opportunity to jump back into politics and see if I can make a difference again.”
Timing, in this case, relates to former MPP Jeff Yurek’s decision to not seek re-election in June and in the process surrender his seat at the end of February.
Earlier this week, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek announced $928,000 in funding to support the purchase of a new building for a permanent emergency shelter.
A facility Yurek noted that will be, “a stable facility from which dedicated local service providers can continue to carry out their important, lifesaving work.”
Such a shelter was one of the areas touched upon last month during a meeting between Mayor Joe Preston and downtown merchants who vented their frustration with the lack of attention paid to the plight of the homeless in the core area.
What Preston referred to as “solving the problems of the people causing the problems.”
Video surveillance will soon be keeping a watchful eye over the city’s downtown core. At Tuesday’s (May 19) meeting, members of council will be asked to endorse Phase 1 of a project that will see the installation of eight CCTV cameras along a two-kilometre stretch of Talbot Street, from CASO Crossing to Queen Street. The locations were selected based on 2018/19 crime mapping data and motor vehicle collision reporting information. In a report to council from city police, it is noted the CCTV program “is a proactive, local solution modelled on successful networks in other municipalities to enhance community well-being and assist the St. Thomas Police Service with solving crime.” Right now when a crime is committed downtown, police need to canvass businesses to see if they have surveillance footage as evidence.
They are not included in the daily tally issued by health units across the province – including Southwestern Public Health in this area – and yet these individuals have been victimized and their lives put on hold by the coronavirus. And last week’s release of the framework to be adhered to by hospitals is a welcome ray of hope for those whose elective surgeries and procedures also fell victim to COVID-19. Although it may still be several weeks before ramping up the numbers, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron says the preparatory work is underway. Speaking with him yesterday (Friday), Biron advised the immediate task is to work with other hospitals in the region to create a joint plan so that all hospitals are working “in a lockstep approach.” He adds, “There is a lot of complexity involved in that because there is a pandemic we have to account for.
While attempting to avoid treading water any longer on a definitive grant process, at Monday’s reference committee meeting, Mayor Joe Preston admitted he is “bothered” by the current process or lack thereof. Obviously frustrated he noted, “a disproportionate amount of time has been spent discussing grants.” To move along the dialogue, Preston announced the formation of a committee with at least a couple of council members on board in order to “write a proposal council can agree with . . . and bring this back in quickly.” Curious as to the direction he envisions, we chatted with the mayor Tuesday to allow him to elaborate. “I think we touched on the outer edges of what grants should look like in our community last night. What we have to decide is where are we going to land in the middle? “I’m the same as anybody else. I don’t think we should go without an art centre. But, should the art centre be getting a set amount every year in perpetuity as part of their funding? “I don’t know. We just have to decide those things.”
The item on Monday’s reference committee agenda notes, “The members will discuss the council grants process.” Trouble is, this council and previous editions have not had a clearly defined method of distributing funding to community groups and organizations. In particular, the last two rounds of funds disbursement have been an embarrassing undertaking, to put it mildly. 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’s determination of who gets what was likened in this corner to a “Saturday morning session at the auction house.” The best takeaway was Coun. Gary Clarke’s observation, “Groups think we have a process in place.”
Hopping on a bus bound for London may soon be a reality for St. Thomas and Elgin county residents.
The city is about to pitch a pilot project to the province seeking funding support for regional transit connectivity for residents of St. Thomas, Central Elgin, Southwold, Malahide and Aylmer.
The undertaking was a recommendation of the Transit Strategic Plan presented to city council a month ago, although the pilot project would go beyond the one-year test suggested in that report.
As outlined Monday (Dec. 16) by Mayor Joe Preston at the reference committee meeting, the three-year undertaking would see a Monday through Sunday service operating from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The bus would leave St. Thomas on the hour for each trip, although Preston stressed these times and hours of operation could be adjusted.