Londoners have again shown the depth of their compassion and generosity by shattering the previous record for donations to the annual Business Cares Food Drive.
Concluded Dec. 22 with its Day of Giving, Business Cares collected 435,400 lbs. of food and cash donations — an increase of 34 percent over last year’s total of 325,500 lbs.
“It would be an understatement to say we’re thrilled with this year’s results,” said Business Cares’ campaign chair Wayne Dunn. “We’re both overwhelmed and humbled by the generosity of the people in London. We’ve had incredible support from businesses, employees, and the community at large.”
Dunn said the campaign “is truly making a difference” in the lives of many people, adding it’s due to the willingness of the community to open their hearts and support the London Food Bank.
He added much of the increase in collected food is due to the increased involvement of businesses and their employees in the community.
“This year we added seven new grocery stores to our Grocery Store weekend, which made an incredible difference,” Dunn said. “We also had a number of new partners join the drive who wonderfully complemented our existing support base.”
In excess of 500 companies registered to participate in the Business Cares Food Drive this year.
“I always say that we’d be happy with anything that we receive,” said London Food Bank co-executive director Jane Roy. “And while that is absolutely true, I would be remiss in not acknowledging the incredible generosity of the London community. In addition to those who come to the Food Bank, we also support a number of organizations and service that make a difference in the community, and we can only do that thanks to the support of Londoners.”
St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has long supported the members of the newly established Railworks Coalition, but will now put its money where its mouth is.
The EDC stepped up with a $15,000 donation, made Dec. 18 at the CASO Station.
The donation is a result of proceeds from the successful Railway City Big Top events that took place over the past summer.
The Railway City Big Top played host to over 20 events in 2017, with highlights that included the Canadian Swiss Dream Circus, comedian Ron James, tribute acts by Music’s Greatest Icons and others.
With over 10,000 people passing through the Big Top’s doors, St. Thomas EDC General Manager Sean Dyke said it was “an incredible success” for both the corporation and Railway City Tourism.
“The Railway City Big Top and this resulting contribution to the Railworks Coalition is a prime example of what happens when a community comes together to support local initiatives,” Dyke said. “We, as an organization, couldn’t be more pleased to be the first to contribute to the newly amalgamated railway group and we look forward to seeing the impact they will have on our community now and in the future.”
This success, Dyke added, would not have been achieved without title sponsorship from the Province of Ontario and Steelway Building Systems.
In addition, he lauded the support provided by the local business community, along with countless hours put in by EDC staff and volunteers.
The $15,000 in funds being provided to the coalition has been earmarked for site upgrades to Railway Park and will further its position as a location for local festivals and events.
In 2017, the City of St. Thomas formally adopted the Railway City brand that has long been used to characterize the historic heart of the community.
This brand, which municipal officials state represents “the strength and resilience of the community as a whole,” now has a place to be showcased to the world as the westerly gateway to the city is now home to one of Canada’s largest and most iconic sculptures.
The piece, named Perseverance, was designed and created by local artist Scott McKay, of Strong Arm Forge, and was installed by crane on Dec. 15. Perseverance is a three dimensional, curving and tapering sculpture made from 25 tonnes of atmospheric corrosion resistant steel.
With a steam locomotive pulling a coal car, a passenger car and a caboose, the sculpture is nearly 20 metres long and six metres tall at the highest point and will be a monument that will stand in the new gateway roundabout for the better part of the next century.
“Embodying the spirit of a community into a sculpture is a challenge that I accepted with this project,” McKay said. “Perseverance incorporates a historical element referencing the railroad and industrial sectors, while the movement and expanding nature of the sculpture captures the enduring community spirit and bright future for the city.”
Located in the valley where Talbot Street meets Wellington Road and Sunset Drive, the gateway is a key entry point to the city’s historic west end, which has also recently been upgraded to be a better entryway to the community and to further reflect the railway heritage.
The new roundabout replaced the oldest traffic signal in St. Thomas and was designed to significantly reduce the severity of collisions while providing visitors to the Railway City with a welcoming approach that features the new sculpture and the new branding attractively displayed on the feature wall, with a parking area designed specifically for viewing and enjoying the public art.
“The Gateway Roundabout gave the city an opportunity to really make a difference in safety, traffic efficiency, and visitor appeal,” said City Engineer Justin Lawrence. “By fully embracing the railway heritage, residents and visitors will be able to enjoy this monumental piece of art for decades.”
The official adoption of the Railway City brand, which was already being used in many circles within the community, gives the city the ability to further differentiate itself from other communities in Ontario.
The Perseverance rail sculpture joins the many other railway assets in St. Thomas that go to support the Railway City branding. These assets include the Canada Southern (CASO) Station, the BX Tower, the replica London & Port Stanley Railway Station & Tourism Office, the Elgin County Railway Museum, the St. Thomas Elevated Park, the murals found throughout the downtown, the Jumbo Monument and the many rail lines that cross the city.
With record years for infrastructure improvement, solid residential, industrial and commercial growth, successful festivals and events and now one of Canada’s largest public art pieces being installed at one of the Railway City’s key gateways, Mayor Heather Jackson said there is much to be proud of in St. Thomas.
“With the success of the #stthomasproud campaign, a great deal of work has been done to grow pride in our community,” Jackson said. “I personally am exceptionally proud of the great strides made over the last few years and this incredible sculpture that celebrates the core of our city’s heritage takes that one step further.”
City council approved the 2018 Annual Budget Update for the Property Tax Supported Budget and the Water and Wastewater and Treatment Rate Supported Budgets.
The average annual property tax levy increase from rates, approved on Dec. 12, will remain at 2.8 percent, the same average increase as originally approved for the 2016-19 multi-year budget period.
This 2.8 percent increase equates to an average annual tax increase of $77 (based on the average rate payer owning a home with an assessed value of $221,000 in 2015).
“This multi-year budget system allows us hold the line on increases while streamlining the overall system. It allows for planning and foresight,” said Mayor Matt Brown. “We’ve set targets in this multi-year budget and stuck to them. Thank you to council, city staff and those who’ve worked to find cost savings through this process.”
In order to maintain the 2.8 percent tax levy increase, council approved two items to reduce the tax levy increase: savings from the phase out of the vacancy tax rebate program, and 2018 assessment growth revenue in excess of costs to service growth. Council’s decisions reduced the tax levy increase from 3.3 percent for each of 2018 and 2019 when the budget was first presented, to 2.8 percent and 3.2 percent respectively.
Council also passed a motion requesting civic administration look for savings in 2019 that would further reduce the tax levy increase in that year.
The 2018 Tax Supported Budget includes a gross operating budget of $920 million and a capital budget of $159 million.
Council approved 19 budget amendments while maintaining the approved 2.8 percent average annual tax levy, noting two amendments were revised based on reduced funding requests from Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.
Additionally, council approved a pilot project for a reduced rate transit pass ($52 monthly) for youth between 13 and 17 years old, starting in September 2018.
“The multi-year budget gives us the flexibility to deliver a budget that meets Londoners’ expectations while keeping a strong financial position,” says Anna Lisa Barbon, CFO and managing director corporate services and city treasurer. “The process ensures the alignment of longer-term goals with longer-term funding plans and our commitment to making strategic investments in community priorities and delivering valued services and programs to Londoners.”
The Water Rate Supported and Wastewater and Treatment Rate Supported Budgets were also approved, maintaining the average annual rate increase of three percent for the 2016-19 multi-year budget period.
The three percent increase translates into an $11 increase per year for Water and $14 increase per year for Wastewater and Treatment for the average ratepayer.
For more information on the 2018 Annual Budget Update and the 2016-19 Multi-Year Budget visit www.london.ca/budget.