Picking up from Monday’s 2021 city budget deliberations, council had directed administration to pare back the municipal property tax levy from 2.48 per cent to 1.5 per cent in deference to the economic impact on ratepayers of the coronavirus.
That request by council translated into cutting about $572,000 from the proposed capital and operating budgets.
Council indicated a priority would be to maintain as much as possible the tax-base contribution to the capital budget and minimize the impact on service delivery in the operating budget.
In other words, find the savings without cutting services.
To deliver on council’s request city manager Wendell Graves and department heads held a pair of meetings on Tuesday of this week to ferret out possible sources of savings.
As a result, council grants to community groups and organizations will be cut by $75,000 in the new year. Leaving about $210,000 in the grant kitty to distribute in 2021.
It was agreed to reduce Community Improvement Program funding by $200,000.
City council will hold two meetings this coming week to begin deliberations on 2021 proposed operating and capital budgets.
The first will start immediately after Monday’s (Dec. 7) council meeting which begins at 5 p.m., with the second to be held the following day starting at 5 p.m.
As it stands now, the budget calls for a 2.48 per cent increase to the property tax levy next year.
Capital projects as proposed would require just under $41 million in funding and, if passed by council, would mark the largest capital budget where debt was not drawn.
Items in the capital budget recommended for approval include up to five electric light-duty vehicles as the city begins to make good on reducing its carbon footprint.
The biggest project at $10.8 million is rebuilding Fairview Avenue from Elm Street to Southdale Line.
Annual road rehabilitation comes in at $2 million and the ongoing Complete Streets program next year will require $6.8 million.
Monday’s (June 29) announcement may have caught some city officials off guard, however for the 230 employees at the Marriott International call centre in St. Thomas, they had an inkling something was up the week before. They had been told a video conference call was scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, leaving them to fret the weekend away as to what lay ahead. In this COVID-19 world, where the travel and hospitality sectors have been particularly hard hit, an announcement the call centre here and another one in San Antonio, Texas were to be shuttered later this summer really should come as no surprise. Between the travel restrictions still in place and, before that, the ease of booking trips and hotel rooms online, the warning signs were clearly present.
To follow up on last week’s item on the pilot project to be undertaken by the St. Thomas Police Service to evaluate body cameras, Chief Chris Herridge indicated the small police force in Kentville, Nova Scotia may prove to be a valuable resource during the evaluation. We contacted Kentville police and exchanged emails with Deputy Chief Marty Smith who was most helpful with his responses to our questions. As to how long the service has employed body cameras he noted, “The Kentville Police Service started with a pilot project in 2015 under retired Chief Mark Mander. “In the beginning, we only had a few members outfitted with Body-Worn Cameras to see if they would be beneficial for our members and the public. In 2018 KPS developed a policy and every patrol member wears a BWC when working.”
After enduring a painful three months of coronavirus cancellations, curtailments and closures, this has been an extraordinary week for positive, time-to-move-forward announcements. Let’s begin with Monday’s (June 8) meeting where council revisited its May 19 split decision to leave the tables empty this summer at the Horton Market. Five members of council – Mayor Joe Preston and councillors Jeff Kohler, Gary Clarke, Joan Rymal and Mark Tinlin – reconsidered their previous non-support which resulted in a unanimous vote to proceed with opening the popular market on June 20. The market board of directors submitted a revised plan of operation with enhanced COVID-19 restrictions which assured all members of council the health and safety of both vendors and customers would be a top priority.
Let’s pray it never reaches this stage – and to date, there is no indication St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is about to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients – however, the president of OPSEU is urging the province “to look for creative ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus.” Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas is urging the Doug Ford government to consider opening portions of previously shuttered regional mental health centres including the facility south of St. Thomas and the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls to ease a potential capacity crisis in the healthcare system. In a media release issued last month, Thomas noted, “They can be used for currently hospitalized alternative care patients or as dedicated COVID-19 centres to relieve pressure on our hospitals. Let’s be proactive. Now is the time for action.”
As is bandied about across all social media venues, does every individual have the right to demand a COVID-19 test? This week we presented that train of thought to Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health at Southwestern Public Health for her observations. Is an individual with a cough immediately tested for the virus? Not normally. Dr. Lock advises, in simple terms, a test is administered when it is clinically indicated. In other words, the test results will better help the doctor to decide what is the best route of care for that patient. So, in the case of an individual exhibiting mild symptoms, what would be prescribed?
With the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes. Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief. While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters. In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council. Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”
Exactly one month ago this weekend, local artist Christine Dewancker was on hand for the official opening of the St. Thomas Elevated Park.
Her imaginative installation, The Faraway Nearby, could the seen in the distance at the west end of the Michigan Central Railroad bridge.
The 11-piece sculpture had previously been on
display at Ontario Place in Toronto and the plan at its new venue in St. Thomas was to have it spread about 30 feet wide and stretch 120 feet to the western entrance to Canada’s only elevated park.
At the Sept. 11 opening of the park in the sky, Dewancker noted, “I’m really, really pleased to be a part of this historic project and I know all of the work that has gone into creating something like this and everybody should be really proud.”