Notes from the Rafters: This Week’s City Council Meeting Recap

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I.J. Samson Property: We Have Come Full Circle
… Around the Sun

One year ago I began covering City Council meetings by “assur[ing]you that the mayor, Dennis ‘Doc’ O’Keefe, does enter chambers behind a man in white gloves bearing a golden sceptre. And he does, indeed, wear Flavor Flav quality bling [a ceremonial livery collar]around his neck throughout.”

One year later, this has not grown old. Chambers stand when he enters, and we sit only when the mayor sits on the carved wood and black leather throne. I don’t want to assume you don’t already know this, but I really don’t want to assume you know, and therefore have you miss out on the image.

Also one year ago, council discussed possible tax revenue from the IJ Samson school property at 50 Bennett Avenue, that the province had sold to a developer. Let’s take a look way back when:

“Puddister […] inquired how and when the city could do an assessment of the IJ Samson school property. That one the provincial government sold for 189,000 to a company who is now trying to sell it for 1.89 million (which, to be fair, includes demolition and any necessary remediation).

Galgay promptly rained on the one-sunny-way-to-look-at-the-city-tax-hikes by listing the reasons the property would assess for nearer the 189k than the cool 1.89 mil. One reason was that the present zoning was “institutional” which isn’t a big money maker, though he didn’t explain a comment from a few seconds earlier that any buyer would likely apply for re-zoning. Either way, Galgay maintained his virulent political ambivalence, strengthened by reading excerpts from a ‘memo.’”

Today, council approved a request from the developer (Bill Clarke of Powderhouse Hill Investments) to rezone a portion of the property from Institutional to Residential Medium Density to allow for twenty townhouses, along with the 58 proposed seniors apartments that would already have been allowed under Institutional zoning. So. That sounds like it should assess for more than 189 thousand.

Heavy Tree Rd Closure Okay’d by Cllr Collins and Carried

Since the province will (in theory) eventually extend the Team Gushue Highway down over this road, the city does not want to waste money fixing it up. It will be henceforth used for farm equipment only, with anyone else using it “at their own risk.”

Mixed Use Hoods: Harder With Real People Than on Paper

Connie Parsons School of Dance was denied a discretionary use application to use the residential property at 1 Kent place behind the studio as storage and parking. The residents of Kent Place wrote a series of very long and similar letters to council all noting the “creeping commercialism,” and “nightmare” created by “the applicant’s care-less attitude” towards the parking issues on the cul-de-sac.

As ward councillor, O’Leary was like, you go girl! Butttt don’t go adding parking on this residential block.

Cllrs. O’leary and Lane both commented that while mixed use neighbourhoods were good, the relationship between this particular business and its residential neighbours was extremely contentious and the business supposedly has a history of not communicating well or cooperatively with its neighbours.

All of council, including the mayor, voted against the application. Except for Cllr Tilley who raised his hand for both. All but one human watching from the public gallery filed out after this decision.

Public Works Committee: Furniture Diversion

Council will apply to MMSB’s “Community Waste Diversion Fund” for a pilot project to save usable furniture from the dump and divert it to the Home Again furniture bank. The city would donate “in-kind” with staff hours to help collect the furniture and data.

This seems like a great idea. Let’s just hope some of the in-kind staff are bed bug sniffer dogs.

Finance Committee: City Budget Surplus

  • Spending limit on “Low Value Purchase Orders” will be increased from $350 to $1000.
  • Budget surplus for 2016 of 12 million. Overall, the revenue was about what was expected. The expenditures were less, which council attributes to the program review process that began in 2016. So we should expect to see more savings in 2017.

in 2016, the city made:

– more money than expected from property taxes
– less money than expected on parking violations and meter smart cards
– less money than expected on day camps, swimming lessons etc (less were sold)
– less money than expected on construction permits
– less money than expected on fines (because they accidentally budgeted to include tax from the fines as revenue)
– less money than expected on rents/concessions because of vacancies
– more money than expected on investment interest because they didn’t know how much interest the city bank accounts would earn (that seems like the easiest one to have predicted accurately. weird)

in 2016, the city spent:

– less on salaries, light and power, materials and supplies in the Waste and Water Dept.
– less on contracts and materials in the roads divisions
– less on para-transit, street lighting and parking metres

You can view the whole report and all savings/spendings here. But I suspect any savings on parking metres in 2016 will be made up for in 2017 by the wild Cool Hand Luke metre wrecking streak we are enjoying downtown. Who could have guessed plastic metre heads would get knocked off so frequently? Besides everyone.

Annual Event Happens Again,
Much to the Surprise of Neighbours

The annual misnomered “Mardi Gras” halloween event on George street is on October 28th this year, and the noise by-laws will, as per usual, be extended to midnight to accommodate it. Cllr Puddister asked that the city better advertise that approval, because they get complaints every year. On Halloween weekend. About George Street.

A Heritage Building Not Slated for Demolition

Cllr Lane pointed out that there is a heritage building that is not getting torn down. 15 convent square (formerly St. Patrick’s Convent) is approved to renovate as a senior’s Apartment Building. Saved heritage and another bulwark against the gathering senior tsunami all in one.

Basketball at Mile One

Mayor O’Keefe, who can “reach the net with the ball and by jumping” is “very comfortable” with a deal now in place to bring a basketball team in as an anchor tenant to Mile One. He says that the city “asked a lot of questions.”

Cllr Hann who admits he “cannot reach the hoop” and has little knowledge of basketball, would still like to point out that this deal will not affect the subsidy [the city gives Mile One]in any way. He says if this is successful, the subsidy may go down.

Deputy Mayor Ellsworth added that the deal doesn’t even include a travel subsidy for 350 thousand dollars that used to be in place.

What the deal does not tell us, yet, is the name of the team. But given that all the National Basketball League of Canada teams sound like weather channel x-men (Riptide, Lightning, Hurricanes, Storm), I’m not getting my hopes up for the “St. John’s Corner Boys.”

There will be 20 guaranteed games at Mile One in the 2017-2018 season, with the possibility of up to 10 play-off games.

The CEO of St. John’s Sports & Entertainment (SJSE), Sheena McCrate, says the deal is for 5 years and both SJSE and council believe this is a sort of harbinger for signing a hockey team again in the next couple of years.

Mayor O’Keefe summed up his feelings about this triumphal coup by calling out “naysayers!” “We will always have naysayers! [They say] bring them on cruise ships and they don’t spend any money and bring ‘em to Mile One and they don’t spend any money…We will always have naysayers! Including in this chamber.”

Random Addendum:

Cllr Tilley used his go-round time to say, “I’ve been here some 19 yrs, and I don’t get to say this often, but congratulations to the young lady next to me for her birthday!” [indicates Cllr O’leary.]

Since every councillor would have had a birthday every one of those 19 yrs that Tilley has “been around,” I can only guess it is the “young lady” part he doesn’t get to say often?

Mayor O’Keefe: Adjourned. Good luck.

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Emily Deming

Emily Deming is involved in a love affair with St John's so deep it extends to attending plays, poetry readings, and dance festivals.

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