“I can guarantee there will be a hospice in Elgin county . . . during my term.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek issued that assurance last December and less than a year later, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott backed that guarantee with a $1.6 million pledge to open an eight-bed residential hospice to serve St. Thomas and Elgin.
Friday morning (Sept. 20) Elliott, who is also the province’s health minister, made the announcement at Memory Garden in Pinafore Park and added once the facility opens, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs.
The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs.
In a ceremony held this morning at the main fire hall in St. Thomas, several dozen firefighters, members of the police service and EMS gathered for a 9-11 memorial service and to recognize the efforts of the people “willing to step up and answer the call to action when it is needed.”
Hosted by the St. Thomas Professional Firefighters’ Association, the ceremony honoured the more than 400 firefighters and law enforcement officers who died in the World Trade Center and on the ground in New York City.
It was also an opportunity for elected officials to pay tribute to the city’s first responders.
“Thank you so much for all of the work you do each and every day to keep us safe,” observed Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio.
The message was designed to elicit a response, and it did just that.
A recent Tweet from St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge advised, “This morning we hit 17,000 incidents, the highest I can remember since starting in 1989. We are on pace to potentially reach 19,000 – averaging over 52 incidents daily. In 2011 we reached 16,031 – our highest before this year. The dedication of staff at STPS has not wavered!”
A phone call to Herridge this past week uncovered other disturbing facts.
So far this year, criminal charges are up 72 per cent and property crime in the city is up 89 per cent over last year.
“So what’s happening is, I believe, there are social issues that are impacting St. Thomas,” advises Herridge. “No different than what I’m hearing from my colleagues in other parts of the province.”
Herridge continues, “And for us, there’s no doubt it’s connected to poverty, homelessness and addictions. Yes, you’re getting people who haven’t been involved in criminal activity. But, a lot of the names we are seeing are repeat offenders.”
It was a sign of what lies ahead for city staff in St. Thomas. An overview of the proposed 2017 advertising sign bylaw ran into stiff opposition at this week’s reference committee meeting.
Amendments to the existing bylaw to deal with portable signs in the downtown core faced vocal opposition from more than two dozen small businesses and area sign companies.
The bylaw would prohibit portable advertising signs in the downtown business area and limit them to one per commercial lot outside the core and three per industrial lot.
A-board signs would still be permitted but would have to come in off the sidewalk at the end of the day.
It’s a restriction similar to what’s in place in London and Sarnia.
The city this week locked in place two more pieces of the Talbot Street West redevelopment puzzle with announcement of the purchase of two properties from London developer Shmuel Farhi.
The acquisitions are the Mickleborough Building at 423 Talbot Street – the home of Ontario Works since 2000 – and a parcel of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and stretching south to Centre Street.
While a conditional offer was announced last April the delay, according to city manager Wendell Graves, revolved around environmental issues.
“We have done due diligence over and above so we know exactly what we are facing,” stressed Graves. “In our approved city budget this year we have funds allocated there to begin some cleanup. Because we are looking to use pieces of that site for residential, under the Ministry of the Environment regs, that is the highest order of cleanup that will be required.”
Totally unsustainable. That’s the only conclusion following the disclosure this week of municipal staff who earned more than $100,000 in 2010.
Membership in the sunshine club mushroomed by 44% — 39 city employees are included on the list, up from 27 in 2009. However, only 10 are city hall employees, while 16 are firefighters and 13 are with the police department.
Is overtime part of the problem, questions Mayor Heather Jackson-Chapman.
“Can we do something to curb that? What can we do to keep this in check to deal with this?”
Yes, overtime is a factor with both police and fire and, for the time being, there’s little St. Thomas can do.
In this corner we have developer Bob McCaig. Staring him down is Warren Scott, president of the St. Thomas Professional Firefighters’ Association.
At stake, whose slate of candidates will sit in the council chambers come December.
In a letter to the Times-Journal this week, in response to an opening volley from McCaig, Scott emphasized his association will continue to “be active in this municipal election and future elections supporting those candidates whom we are confident support public safety.”
McCaig has responded, “I am sure the community appreciated the reply of Warren Scott pointing out there are in fact seven candidates that the association supports and not just three. I stand corrected.”