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.”
The Ontario government on Tuesday (June 1) passed new legislation and made amendments to existing legislation in its Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy.
It coincided with the arrest of 59-year-old St. Thomas resident Eugene Andre Francois on human trafficking charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, traffic in persons under the age of 18, benefitting from trafficking and possession of child pornography.
A female had contacted St. Thomas Police to report she was a trafficking victim for several months as a minor in 2013.
Representing that victim is Kelly Franklin, recognized as this country’s leading expert in anti-human trafficking awareness and certification.
She is the founder of Courage for Freedom, a Canadian-based organization that exists to educate, train and certify front-line and community service providers on proven strategies and prevention tactics that serves vulnerable victims of human trafficking and sexually exploited girls.
Franklin is also the Executive Director of Farmtown Canada, located just east of Mapleton.
It’s a great question. How are police supposed to keep this community safe when the courts continually release or deal lightly with repeat offenders?
Some with dozens of outstanding and fail to comply charges.
A revolving door police are stuck in while attempting to deal with a record number of service calls, many involving social and mental health issues.
All of which tax police resources at a time when there is a hue and cry to defund police.
We presented this to St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge this week – which coincided with the release of the service’s 2020 annual report.
A document which revealed a 10 per cent increase in incidents last year while the overall use of force rates for the service dropped by 33 per cent.
The report notes, “This is a very strong indicator of officer awareness, de-escalation skills along with education and training capabilities of our officers.”
Herridge began the conversation by suggesting, “We’ve got to figure out a way to deal with this issue we are having. It’s been termed catch and release and we have to find a way to protect the victim and how do we look after vulnerable people as well.
Fishing and canoeing are now permitted activities at Lake Margaret after Monday’s (May 10) 6-3 vote in support of a couple of motions brought forward by Coun. Gary Clarke.
The turn of events caught city staff off guard as no policies are in place, let alone any signage or launch areas for watercraft.
In speaking with city clerk Maria Konefal this week, her initial advice is “stay tuned.”
She added, “We’ll have a plan that will be coming forward so people are aware how and where . . .”
On Friday the city sent out an advisory of additional items for Monday’s (May 17) agenda including “an overview of measures that will be implemented to provide for non-motorized boating and fishing on Lake Margaret.”
Coun. Clarke calls Lake Margaret, “a positive recreational place for the city to add to Waterworks and Pinafore. It has some features those two don’t have, in terms of accessibility.”
Unveiled this past Monday (May 3) by St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry and Lindsay Rice of the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, Project Tiny Hope offers just that. Big on hope packaged up in quality, energy-efficient, supportive affordable housing for St. Thomas.
The undertaking to take shape at 21 Kains Street, the former home of Elgin Handles, will consist of 20 tiny homes and 20 units in a three-storey apartment building.
A dream come true for Tarry, who enthused you can’t beat the location.
“You’re five minutes from everything. You’ve got banking, grocery stores and you’re a minute from the trail system. We’re really pumped about this project.”
Doug Tarry Limited contributed $280,000 for cleanup of the brownfield site which is expected to begin later this year. He is partnering with the YWCA and Sanctuary Homes of Elgin-St. Thomas.
The latter donated $200,000 to purchase the lot.
There are one or two members of council advocating for fishing and non-motorized boats to be permitted on Lake Margaret. Several of their peers have expressed an interest in whether this is even possible from an environmental point of view.
But, is council as a whole willing to authorize an expenditure of $50,000 to find out if such recreational activities are feasible?
That’s the question Monday night when members delve into a report from Ross Tucker and Adrienne Jefferson from the city’s parks, recreation and property management department.
For a sum of $49,245 plus HST, Ecosystem Recovery Inc. of Kitchener will undertake an environmental assessment of the Lake Margaret area.
The firm offers a diverse range of engineering services to help effectively assess, manage, and restore sensitive water resources infrastructure, according to their website.
Over the past 20 years, two master plans have been created for Lake Margaret, both were conservation-based and both recommended no activity on the lake including swimming, fishing, or recreational watercraft.
A total of 88 critically needed childcare spaces in the city have just evaporated into thin air. Along with the spaces, $2.6 million in provincial funding – in hand – now has to be returned as the city has been unable to not only complete the project, it hasn’t even put a shovel in the ground.
And ultimately, you have to double back to the comment from city developer Peter Ostojic, why is the city involved in building affordable housing units themselves?
Peter and his brother Joe have completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer.
“If the joint goal of our community is to provide as much affordable housing for people (as possible), it is important that the private sector be the primary delivery agent,” advised Peter more than a year ago.”
So, what have childcare spaces to do with affordable housing?
Let’s join the dots.
Phase 2 of the social services hub at 230 Talbot Street was to include additional affordable housing plus a childcare facility. Back in July of 2019, city manager Wendell Graves admitted the cost of construction per residential unit was projected to be “fairly high” at $290,515 per unit.
It’s time to get serious and address the escalating challenges looming over the city’s downtown core, advises St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge.
After a couple of phone calls this week and an exchange of emails, Herridge took the time to present a case for taking a leadership role in confronting those challenges.
“We are seeing a trend where drug and property crime has been increasing,” notes Herridge. “If we do not get a handle on the issues we are currently facing, the big city issues that quickly arrived here three to four years ago are going to turn into the serious issues occurring in larger centres across our country.
“As I have mentioned many times in the past, St. Thomas is not unique to the social, health and crime problems being experienced, but we can be leaders in addressing these issues if we focus on where the challenges are and, right now, the challenges are predominantly in and around our downtown.”
Herridge starts with a resource primer that should be pinned within easy reach for downtown merchants and their staff.
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.