With all the knocks against the province’s coronavirus attack plan and vaccination roll-out, you have to wonder how much consultation there has been with the local health units and their medical officers of health? In fact, how closely is the government listening to medical authorities at institutions like Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto and other experts in the field on a safe back-to-school policy? You can point to the federal government for their handling of the vaccine itself, but is the shortage an easy target when your own program is likewise sputtering and subject to rapid and unexpected about turns? At the grassroots level our local health unit, Southwestern Public Health, is being proactive and has approached the city to obtain use of Memorial Arena as a vaccination hub. The matter is a late addition to Monday’s (March 1) council agenda. As noted in city manager Wendell Graves’ report to members, “Attributes of the site include easy access, good parking and the ability to map out an operational floor plan that would allow for the greatest number of people to be vaccinated as expeditiously as possible.”
We’ve all seen ads like these featuring some product with the disclaimer, ‘May not be exactly as pictured’ or ‘Object appears larger for display purposes’. Seems that may be the case with Phase 1 of the three-tower residential development rising up on the former Alma College property. The renderings of the apartment buildings appear different than the original site plans approved by the city. That was the focus of a lengthy Q&A during the Feb. 12 meeting of the site plan control committee held online with city staff and developer Michael Loewith and his team. The bone of contention was whether the approved permit drawings for the Phase 1 building are substantially in conformance with the site plan agreement. Absolutely not, argued Alma College watchdog Dawn Doty – who lives right across the street – and architect Ed van der Maarel, also a neighbour of the grandly named Alma College Square. The 156-unit Phase 1 is scheduled for completion in 2022. Doty has a front-row seat on what is transpiring on the Moore Street property and she noted during the meeting, “Looking at the original site plan drawings, what I’m seeing outside my window is tremendously different than what I first saw. Would you agree with that?”
The 70 or so minutes discussing Southwestern Public Health’s sharps program this past Monday exceeded the length of the majority of council meetings in the past year.
And, when Mayor Preston wrapped up the discussion, nothing had been resolved as to why is it the city’s responsibility to undertake disposal of discarded sharps – hundreds of thousands of them each year – when it is the health unit that dispenses them.
And, that is not a misprint. In 2019, the health unit distributed about 438,000 of them throughout its coverage area with about a third of those being returned after use.
The health unit is proposing a collaborative partnership with the city whereby it would be responsible for disposing of the sharps at an estimated annual cost of $65,000 per year.
As Coun. Joan Rymal duly noted the city is already on the hook for about $100,000 annually for sharps disposal. The three or four large bins around the city need to be cleaned out several times a week because the numbers dropped off as opposed to the twice a month the health unit feels would suffice under the partnership.
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.
Love where you shop.
That’s the branding employed by the St. Thomas Downtown Development Board as they promote shopping in the city’s historic core area along Talbot Street.
Although in this exceptional year, the downtown merchants have faced a double whammy: shuttering for several months due to the coronavirus and having to contend with the homeless who wander Talbot Street and frequent the back lanes.
Although they are now open again, for the most part, many shoppers are leery to venture downtown citing the less than inviting atmosphere.
More 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.