Councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Joe Preston and city manager Wendell Graves this past Monday. Push forward with the construction of an 88-space downtown childcare centre in an expedient fashion. Preston responded as he has in the past, by deflecting. In his report to council, Graves recommended retendering the project this fall with construction to be completed by the end of next year. The reason for the delay in going out to tender, advised Graves, is an increase in costs in the neighbourhood of $300,000 when the project was tendered last month. Putting the cost estimate in the $4.3 million range whereas just over $4 million has been budgeted for the badly needed childcare facility to be located on St. Catharine Street. “Childcare spaces in our community are desperately needed,” reminded Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, “and I believe once we start coming out of COVID a little more rapidly, the people who are going to be requiring the service of daycare is going to be growing exponentially.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek points to a “a gap in the system.” He is referring to the situation of unlicensed group homes like Walnut Manor, shut down this week by Southwestern Public Health until all health and safety violations are remediated. “I think we’ve acknowledged that across the board,” continued Yurek in a conversation Thursday (July 8).” We asked him about Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who, in December of 2019, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor and others owned and operated by SupportiveLiving.ca. The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
Seven years after the health unit closed the kitchen for three days due to food handling and storage violations, Southwestern Public Health ordered Walnut Manor closed due to public health violations. After years of enduring rodents, bed bugs, mould and food best described as appalling and not appealing, the health unit today (July 7) issued a Section 13 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to close Walnut Manor in St. Thomas due to the existence of significant health hazards. The closure comes on the heels of an exterior fire back in May in which, luckily, no one was injured. The only surprise in this closure order is the fact it took the health unit, city hall, mayors and councils, the fire department and other agencies in St. Thomas years to send a message to owner Vishal Chityal of SupportiveLiving.ca that our most vulnerable residents do not deserve to be warehoused in the fashion they are at Walnut Manor.
With the drawing to a close this past week of Indigenous History Month and the horrific revelation of more bodies discovered in unmarked graves at another residential school, our conversation with Ray John took on increased significance. He is an impassioned Indigenous cultural teacher at the London District Catholic School Board and with boards elsewhere in the province. He has worked in the education field for more than 15 years and he says the mixed emotions of the past month have had a unifying effect in his Oneida community and within Indigenous communities elsewhere in the country. “You drive up and down in our community and you see so many orange shirts. You see toys out there dedicated to the young ones that are gone. “But there’s a real sense of unity here. It’s not that it wasn’t here before. I think it is more that we are supporting each other.” John has been awarded for working “tirelessly in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation” and he stresses only through engaging in tough conversations will Canadians be able to educate themselves on Indigenous culture and the tyranny of residential schools.
Is it possible opening up Lake Margaret to additional uses could become as divisive an issue as the twin-pad arena controversy more than 15 years ago? It certainly divided council when put to a vote and based on comments we’ve received – some documented further on here – it has splintered opinion with city residents. As noted at a previous meeting of council, fishing in Lake Margaret is regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city has posted on its website the lake is closed to fishing from now until the fourth Saturday in June in accordance with the Ontario bass fishing season. The city notes, “Once the lake is open again for fishing we ask that you carry a valid Ontario fishing license and adhere to the posted signs that direct you to where fishing can occur at the northwest and southwest end of the lake. “No fishing is to occur behind the homes on the north and south shore of Lake Margaret.” Furthermore, “Boat Launch signage will also be posted on the east end of the lake at Jim Waite Park, where you can park on Lake Margaret Trail. Parking is also available at Pinafore Park near the Celebration Pavilion where directional signage will lead you to the northwest boat launch.”
It will be interesting to gauge the response at city hall
after the province announced yesterday (Friday) it is launching consultations with the municipal sector to strengthen accountability for council members.
To quote the release from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, “The province wants to ensure that councillors and heads of council maintain a safe and respectful workplace and carry out their duties as elected officials in an ethical and responsible manner.” Minister Steve Clark added, “We want to gather input to ensure there are adequate mechanisms in place to hold council members accountable for any unacceptable behaviour.” He went on to note, “It’s critical that everyone feels safe and respected in the workplace, and that they know there are accountability measures in place for members who violate codes of conduct.” It was two years ago that an unnamed member of council was the subject of a signed complaint from a city employee alleging an individual of the opposite sex removed a cell phone from a hip pocket, brushed their body against the complainant’s back and casually touched a forearm and elbow multiple times, making the employee feel very uncomfortable.
This past Monday was a busy day for Mayor Joe Preston as he noted the city was able to undertake a decade’s worth of work in a day.
Preston was referring to the city’s three-year strategic plan setting out priorities, guiding principles, goals and commitments as laid out at the Dec. 14 reference committee meeting.
One of the pillars of that plan is creation of a compassionate community and the commitment to build an emergency shelter for the homeless. It is to be constructed in a single location and be open by September of this year.
Well on Monday the city released a blueprint as it moves forward on its compassionate community strategic objective.
It’s a sweeping paper with many more objectives than just a homeless shelter.
The most immediate action point involves the city entering into a memorandum of understanding with Indwell Community Homes to develop supportive housing projects.
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.
By the year 2041, the city’s population is projected to exceed 50,000. To accommodate this influx, the city will need to adjust its urban area boundary as part of a review of its official plan. The city is undertaking – with input from residents – a project it identifies as Positioned for Growth. The study will assemble the required planning and engineering reports to support the preferred expansion lands and bring them into the urban area boundary to designate for development. Concurrently the city is identifying recreational and cultural infrastructure and the fire protection services required to support this growth in the coming decades. Representatives from Dillon Consulting in Kitchener met with council at Monday’s reference committee meeting with a draft copy of its fire station location study.