Does preserving railway heritage in St. Thomas merit property tax relief?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith 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.”

Continue reading

Hospice of Elgin: An investment ‘in more than bricks and mortar’


city_scope_logo-cmykFour months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin.
And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside.
In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice.
Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.”
Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.

Continue reading

After all these years, is there a move afoot to pare the size of St. Thomas city council?


city_scope_logo-cmykSize does, in fact, matter.
That was the finding back in 2003 of what was known as the McCarthy-Tetrault report, a full and independent review of the council of the day and its working relationships at city hall.
The initial call for a review of council and staff dated back to April 28 of that year when Jeff Kohler, then an alderman, moved that “the City of St. Thomas undertake an independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas.”
The subsequent report categorized council as “dysfunctional” and its inability to operate in cohesive fashion is “rooted in the mix of personalities . . . . The resulting lack of respect for others seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.”
The report’s author, Chris White of the law firm McCarthy-Tetrault, made several recommendations, the most contentious of which called for the reduction in the size of council to seven members from the then-current eight, including the mayor, in an effort to cut down on the number of deadlocked votes.

Continue reading

St. Thomas is in desperate need of affordable housing. Question is, who should build it?


city_scope_logo-cmykLet’s start with the following premise.
“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.”
That’s the argument put forth by Peter Ostojic who, along with his brother Joe, has completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer.
In the past several months via emails sent to this corner, Peter has repeatedly questioned why the city is undertaking the construction of affordable housing units such as Phase 1 of the city’s social services and housing hub recently opened at 230 Talbot Street.
A total of 28 apartment units are located on the two floors above the ground floor office space.
Of those units, eight one-bedroom apartments have received funding through the federal/provincial Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program. As such, rents can be no higher than 80 per cent of the average market rent for the area.

Continue reading

2020 St. Thomas budget outlook: Contract negotiations cloud the horizon at city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykMore investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining.
That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year.
With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget.
Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year.
That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.

Continue reading

St. Thomas Transit strategic plan: ‘Any change is better than what we have now’


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city’s much-maligned transit system may very well become a greatly relied upon people mover if council endorses the recommendations of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Transit Plan.
The proposed changes would involve route and schedule adjustments, the introduction of demand-responsive transit (DRT), the possibility of larger buses and electric bus technology and a pilot project to explore regional bus service.
At Monday’s (Nov. 18) reference committee meeting, Brian Putre of Stantec Consulting and city engineer Justin Lawrence presented an overview of recommendations to members of city council.
The plan, which is 95 per cent complete, drew favourable comments from all of council, including the stark observation from Coun. Joan Rymal that “any change is better than what we have now.”

Continue reading

You can amend the St. Thomas official plan but will that attract hotel guests?


city_scope_logo-cmykEarlier this month, council unanimously approved recommendations from the planning department concerning amendments to the city’s official plan to support hotel and apartment use at Elgin Centre (formerly Elgin Mall).
The report from Jim McCoomb, manager of planning services for the city, followed a public meeting held July 15 where some residents expressed concerns about noise emanating from the hotel, snow removal and storage, fire safety for the upper levels of the hotel and parking and traffic.
A traffic assessment study submitted to the city concluded, “the proposed redevelopment of a portion of the existing Elgin Centre shopping mall will not significantly change the existing roadway traffic volumes and on-site parking accommodation.”
It was noted a petition had been received signed by 40 individuals opposed to the proposal.

Continue reading