Doors closed on nominations, let the campaigning begin in earnest


city_scope_logo-cmykAs of 2 p.m. yesterday (July 27) the window of opportunity to file nomination papers for the Oct. 22 municipal vote closed. The lineups are set, let the serious campaigning begin.
There were no new additions in the mayoral race at the deadline, so incumbent Heather Jackson will be challenged by Coun. Steve Wookey, former MP Joe Preston and musician/small business advisor Malichi Male.
In the hours and days leading up to yesterday’s deadline, the ranks of councillors seeking re-election and those vying for one of eight seats up for grabs swelled to 19.
Late entries include former alderman Lori Baldwin-Sands; Lesley Buchanan, St. Thomas Cemetery Company manager; Greg Graham; Rose Gibson in her fifth attempt to gain a seat; John Laverty, long associated with St. Thomas Energy/Ascent Group; Michael Manary, who unsuccessfully campaigned in 2006 and 2014; James Murray; and Kevin Smith. Continue reading

Ascent 2015 financial statement will spark your interest


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s a much anticipated document and it can be found in the agenda for Monday night’s city council meeting.

We are referring to the city’s consolidated financial statements for 2015 which include details of its investment in Ascent Group Inc.

Not sure whether it is meant to offer reassurance to ratepayers, however that portion of the document opens with “The city owns 100% of Ascent Group Inc. which in turn owns 100% of St. Thomas Energy Inc., Ascent Energy Services Inc., Ascent Solutions Inc., Ascent Utility Services Inc., and Ascent Renewables.

Once you digest the Ascent Group financial statement we, as ratepayers, would be better off owning a fleet of wheezing Russian Ladas.

If you thought the 2014 Ascent picture was grim, hold on. Continue reading

A hoped-for sane policy for community funding grants


city_scope_logo-cmykWith no sane or sensible guidelines currently in place, council is about to grapple with how it dishes out funding to community groups.

At Monday’s meeting of council, members will receive a report entitled Policy on Granting Funds to Community Organizations, a framework that should have been in place years ago.

No better example of the helter-skelter approach utilized in the past than the dithering this summer over whether St. Thomas Cemetery Company should be granted $59,000 in funding.

A debate that appears more grounded in personality conflict than sound financial sense. Continue reading

Council waffles on future of cemetery


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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

Long-term financial solution remains elusive


West Avenue Cemetery

West Avenue Cemetery

It’s shaping up as a hand-to-mouth existence for St. Thomas Cemetery Company.

City council Monday voted to extend the cemetery board of directors a financial life line of sorts by way of a $20,000 operating grant. Combined with the first instalment in April of $30,000, it leaves them $9,000 short of the amount requested during this year’s budget deliberations.

St. Thomas Cemetery Company operates historic West Ave. cemetery and South Park Cemetery south of the city in Central Elgin. It had served notice it would seek to abandon the two burying grounds effective April 30 of this year if the long-standing city grant wasn’t reinstated. Continue reading

Over-extended reach ultimately hobbled Ascent


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the departure Wednesday of former Ascent CEO Ron Osborne, board chairman John Laverty takes over the helm on a temporary basis. It will be his responsibility to guide the process that will result in the hiring of an individual tasked with winching the utility out of the financial quagmire in which it finds itself to the tune of $14 million in losses and money owing to the city last year.
Not to mention its long-term debt of what, another $6 million or so?
We caught up with John this week and what many may not realize is the St. Thomas resident was a former public utilities commissioner who has been “kicking around the utility industry on the governance side since 1991.”
He advised the process of hiring a new CEO started almost immediately.
“We decide as a board whether we’re going to use a headhunter or not.” Continue reading

Cemetery stalemate continues


West Avenue Cemetery

West Avenue Cemetery

The cards were laid on the table Wednesday at a special reference committee meeting of city council held at the Seniors Centre.

After a summer of deliberation, the steering committee struck by council on April 20 to develop a business plan “that reflects the ability of St. Thomas Cemetery Company to be sustainable” delivered the goods.

And it wasn’t music to the ears of Mayor Heather Jackson and most councillors.

“There are only two options,” advised cemetery board member and former alderman Gord Campbell.

“The city gives us money or we go to the province. And that’s not a threat, that’s reality.”
Continue reading

It’s not a loss, it’s simply an adjustment


city_scope_logo-cmykAs referenced in this corner last week, city council will be in receipt Monday of a report outlining the tender results for construction of the new St. Thomas Police Service headquarters.
The low bid is $10,733,000 from M.J. Dixon Construction, a Brampton firm.
That figure includes construction of the one-storey facility just west of the Timken Centre and the T-intersection at the north end of Third Ave.
Eleven firms were pre-qualified for the process and nine of those firms submitted bids.
As confirmed by CAO Wendell Graves, all of the firms have experience in the construction of police facilities or similar structures. Continue reading

Unwilling participants caught in a juggling act


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It’s an unenviable position to be in, but for Pauline Wimbush and her immediate neighbours on Kains St., they are unwilling participants in a circus-type juggling act.
If you recall, Wimbush lives next door to what she calls “a disaster” at 46 Kains St. An abandoned and derelict cottage-style house that has been at the mercy of the elements for the past four years with the owner having moved to Holland.
The vermin-infested house is akin to “living next to the St. Thomas zoo,” advises Wimbush.
She contacted Mayor Heather Jackson last year, however the mayor’s lack of response “showed very poor and weak leadership,” asserts Wimbush.
Speaking to the city’s chief building official Chris Peck on Friday, he outlined the process undertaken when a stalemate like Wimbush and her neighbours are facing drags on for years. Continue reading