Answers needed on dealing with Ascent long-term debt


city_scope_logo-cmykWith a 322-page agenda plus several deputations and presentations to deal with, members of council won’t be putting the wraps on Monday’s council meeting in 45 minutes or less, as is often the case.
Especially if they do what they are paid to do and represent St. Thomas ratepayers. Forget lobbing softballs and ask the tough questions. Forget the platitudes to staff about a job well done on this report or that. Of course the report is exceptional, that’s the job of staff at city hall and they do it well.
Start probing.
For instance, how about the city’s consolidated financial report for 2016. We’ll point you in the right direction at Page 275. Continue reading

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Charting the pathway to demolition and freedom for the hostages


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter nine years, the city finally benefits from a legal determination the Sutherland Press building is, indeed, unsafe but does the ruling from Justice Peter Hockin mean the hostage taking in St. Thomas is nearing a conclusion?
The city has chosen to take a cautious approach, something it can’t be faulted on after a 2008 ruling from Justice David Little triggered partial demolition of the top floor of the four-storey structure. A process halted almost immediately by the same Justice Hockin.
What is most frustrating is the continued lack of movement on the part of owner David McGee since the June 28 decision that upheld a pair of city work orders. Attempts by McGee and his lawyer, Valerie M’Garry, to convince both Hockin and city staff that the financial picture had somehow improved – to the tune of $50,000 – were laughable. 
Surely the unpaid bills would gobble that up in prompt fashion.
M’Garry had indicated to this corner the next step would be dialogue with the city on moving forward.
So, how is that working out?

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What was once forgotten, is now lost


city_scope_logo-cmykIn January of last year we first wrote about the forgotten Talbot Street apartments, clearly visible from the mayor’s office across the street at city hall.
Even more shocking than the decrepit state of these hovels was the fact owner Trad Antoine had been approved by St.Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works for funding to add 10 one-bedroom units next door at 560 Talbot St., above the former Capitol Theatre.
Two of the apartments were to be reserved for clients supported by the YWCA of St. Thomas-Elgin and the remainder for Canadian Mental Health Association clients.
He was in line to receive $731,925 of Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) funding.
Just before Christmas, 2016, we checked in with acting director of St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works Elizabeth Sebestyen on the status of those new units given the fact Trad had packed up shop at his furniture business housed in the old theatre. Continue reading

West end of Talbot Street to be site of ‘social services and housing campus’


The city shone some light this week on its proposal to develop “a social services and housing campus” on a large tract of land recently purchased from London developer Shmuel Farhi.
City manager Wendell Graves updated council at Monday’s reference committee meeting on the development process at 230 Talbot Street which will be undertaken in three stages, anchored by a new home for Ontario Works which is currently leasing space in the Mickleborough building at 423 Talbot Street, the second property purchased by the city from Farhi in the same transaction.

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Bankruptcy an undesirable fare at Cox Cabs


city_scope_logo-cmykAn independent player in the movement of people and parcels around St. Thomas and environs since 1944, taxis branded as Cox Cabs picked up their last fare early this year.
A victim of a market re-brand or idled by bankruptcy?
The former, insists owner Jamie Donnelly, who purchased Cox Cabs from the late Terry Banghart in 2011. Banghart took part ownership of the company in 1993 and sole ownership in 2003. He began as a driver with the firm in 1973.
“We started re-branding about three months ago and we have completed it now,” Donnelly told City Scope recently.

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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

A big ‘if’ looming over proposed west end community hub


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the announcement last April the city has extended a conditional offer to London developer Shmuel Farhi to purchase a vacant plot of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and extending to Centre Street.

The site is being considered for development of a community hub to house the Ontario Works department and the Central Community Health Centre, both currently occupying office space along the north side of Talbot Street. The possibility also exists the site could be used for affordable housing units.

In the intervening months, the city has undertaken due diligence. Time is becoming a factor, however, as the lease on the Mickleborough building at 423 Talbot Street current home of Ontario Works and also owned by Farhi, expires later this year.

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