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

A tale of two schools: ‘The public doesn’t support us closing full schools to create a business case to open another one.’


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a three-year battle to save a couple of rural schools in Elgin, but in the end, it may have been a last-minute letter of clarification that sealed the deal.
Tuesday evening (Nov. 26) Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) trustees voted overwhelmingly in favour of rescinding a motion to shutter New Sarum and Springfield public schools next year.
The motion had initially been introduced in October by Elgin trustee Meagan Ruddock, with the support of fellow area trustee Bruce Smith.
After the school board completed an accommodation study of a dozen area schools, it was recommended four of them be closed: South Dorchester, Westminster Central, New Sarum and Springfield public schools.
A fifth, Sparta Public School, was to be repurposed as a French immersion school.
Several trustees had opposed Ruddock’s motion in the belief such a move could jeopardize the business case for the construction of a new school in Belmont.

Continue reading

Provincial dollars to support St. Thomas crisis intervention team because ‘mental health is truly a community issue’


city_scope_logo-cmykWith a ballooning caseload and the threat of budgetary dollars evaporating next month, yesterday’s (May 24) announcement the provincial funding tap is to be turned on couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the local branch of the CMHA and the St. Thomas Police Service.
The significance of the announcement was underscored through the appearance of a pair of Ford government heavyweights on hand for the investment news.
Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, accompanied by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott, took to the podium outside the police station on CASO Crossing to announce $70,775 in funding that will allow a CMHA caseworker to continue working with the police service’s mobile crisis intervention team. Continue reading

Doling out St. Thomas grant money: the city’s own cap-and-trade program?


city_scope_logo-cmykCity council’s reference committee meetings – held immediately prior to the regularly scheduled council sittings – tend to be straight forward, down-to-business sessions with an abundance of information and plenty of questions.
While very informative, they can be a tad on the dry side.
Well, a dramatic change could be in order for Monday’s meeting (Feb. 11) which begins at 4:30 p.m. and will see members determine how to dole out community grants for the year.
In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow.
The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range.
Last year, even with an attempt to pare back some of the requests, the city still awarded almost $330,000 in grants.
For 2019, council has received funding asks from 18 groups or organizations seeking a total of $455,600.
Some tough decisions are in order Monday.

Continue reading

Can a local fix result in ‘a perfect case’ fire scenario at a pair of St. Thomas homes?


city_scope_logo-cmyk

Part 1 of this story can be found here.

City Scope has spent almost five years documenting the shortcomings at Walnut Manor in St. Thomas, operated by Niagara Supportive Living of Welland.
From meals described as appalling to bare bones maintenance and housekeeping to, most recently, an infestation of bed bugs.
Now you can add owner Vishal Chityal’s refusal to add a sprinkler system to the ageing facility which has housed upward of a dozen residents at any one time.
In the second part of our examination into fire safety at facilities housing the city’s most vulnerable individuals, we talk with St. Thomas Chief Fire Prevention Officer Bill Todd about Walnut Manor and Elizabeth Sebestyen, St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services director, about the options available for the city to protect residents of these unsprinklered group homes. Continue reading

After a close call at Caressant Care, will the fire focus shift to a pair of non-sprinklered facilities in St. Thomas?


city_scope_logo-cmykAlthough one resident remains hospitalized, the Jan. 26 fire at Caressant Care, Bonnie Place in St. Thomas is being called “a perfect case” where the sprinkler system worked, firefighters were on the scene within four minutes and staff and residents had participated in a practice fire drill less than three months previous.
The late-evening blaze sent seven people to hospital, including four residents, two staff and a firefighter. All have been released with the exception of one resident who remains in critical condition.
But, what if that blaze had, instead, broken out in either one of a pair of facilities that appear to have fallen through various cracks? Continue reading

Covering the bases so Walnut Manor residents don’t fall through the cracks . . . again


city_scope_logo-cmykOn any given night, anywhere from a dozen to 18 of the city’s most vulnerable citizens lay down their heads in bed bug infested rooms at a dilapidated facility wanting for even the most basic of housekeeping efforts.
Their daily menu, as aptly described by lawyer advocate Elena Dempsey, is appalling not appealing.
And now, we find out these residents of Walnut Manor will not even benefit from the simple comfort of knowing their long-past-the-best-before-date hovel will be equipped with a life-saving sprinkler system.
Why is it other residential care facilities in St. Thomas are mandated to install sprinkler systems by the end of the year and yet this independent supportive living home operated by Niagara Supportive Living of Welland is exempt from this regulation?
Why is it, once again, the residents of Walnut Manor fall through the cracks?
Continue reading