Hey – look who’s running for St. Catharines City Council in Ward 4!

Mat Siscoe is!  Filed my nomination papers this morning, and I’m assuming my candidate profile – complete with awful photo – will go up before the weekend here.  Anyone who has poked around here in the last few weeks will have noticed that my posting, when it happens at all, has been more locally focused.  That will likely become the rule rather than the exception in future months.

With that in mind, I attended a GO Transit public meeting last night at Market Square – informative, but not much new in the presentation that I hadn’t already gleaned from previous media reports.  My quote from the St. Catharines Standard article this morning:

Mat Siscoe said other cities have seen benefits from being on transit routes and it’s something St. Catharines needs. “It’s got to have a linkage to the big city,” he said, adding regional transit should be a priority as well.

Not quite what I was getting at, but that’s the gist; I more fully explain my opinion here.  St. Catharines needs a transit link to Toronto.  The ability to get into the GTA for work, along with a lower cost of living and more affordable housing, means good things for the St. Catharines of the future.

The part about regional transit, however, was very accurate.  If we want St. Catharines to remain a viable place for people to live, we need to give them the chance to get to their jobs wherever they happen to be in the region.  That doesn’t necessarily mean a new transit service – it can be as simple as what goes on now to Brock University and Niagara College from each of the cities in the region.  It needs to be addressed properly, however, and soon.  There’s a regional council meeting tonight – it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

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City communication

Does anyone else wonder how a city could make it to 2010 and only now be doing this:

“Upshall’s role will be to issue press releases, maintain the city’s website and publish a city newsletter six times a year.”

Really? We’re only now getting around to hiring someone whose sole job is to communicate what city hall is doing? I mean, better late than never, but come on . . .

This is how you build a city budget?!

I admit, I’m a little naive when it comes to budgeting by various levels of government.  But I guess it always struck me that the sane way to create a budget would be to write down all the things that are necessary for a city, figure out how much they cost, and then charge taxpayers accordingly.

“City treasurer Shelley Chemnitz said the draft budget has a list of nearly 40 items that department heads wanted to include but didn’t, in order to reduce the size of the spending hike.”

“Similarly, councillors Dawn Dodge and Jennie Stevens hinted that instead of cutting, they want to add things to the budget, with Dodge asking for a pedestrian activated signal to be installed on Linwell Road in the area of Ina Grafton Gage seniors’ home. That prompted Stevens to ask for the same type of signal to be installed on Hartzel Road in her ward. “

“Fire chief Mark Mehlenbacher said his wish list has $100,000 for rural property identification numbers, but he’s willing to cut a $30,000 computerized system that keeps track of firefighters when they are inside a burning building, making do with the manual tag system the fire department currently uses. “

“Mustard said his wish list includes $375,000 for trimming trees, saying his department can’t keep up with the number of complaints about dangerous foliage.

“The backlog is growing,” he said. “The number of complaints we get in in a week is greater than the number we can clear.

Mustard also said his department hasn’t been spending enough on building maintenance.

“We’ve had to cut back on infrastructure spending and where we’ve done a fair bit of that is building repair,” he said. “That’s where we feel the pressure.”

But Mustard’s department will be spending some extra money on building maintenance this year. Included in the budget list of significant increases over last year is $75,000 to maintain the St. Paul Street properties the city bought as the future location of the performing arts centre, $87,000 to maintain the Old Courthouse, and $63,000 for maintenance of the Folk Arts building on Church Street. “

Judging from this article, however, that’s not the case.  It becomes more a case of creating wishlists, figuring out how to stretch things here and cut things there.  No real rhyme or reason, no (apparent) long-term forethought into what infrastructure or capital needs might be required in the future (can anyone say four-pad arena that can’t be expanded to house the local OHL team).  Real ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ kind of stuff.

Memo to city council – write down the stuff you need, figure out how much it is going to cost, and budget accordingly.  Everyone has a wishlist – heck, I’ve got a wishlist several pages long – but my employer doesn’t just keep handing me more money because I want more stuff.  We’re just clearing a recession, the local economy is still in the pits, and there hasn’t been much in the way of population growth around here in a long time.  Maybe sticking to the basics would be your best bet.

And none of us would be particularly upset if you slowed down on the wage increases – just a head’s up.

Public Transit in Niagara

Bruce Timms asks an important question in this article, and I’m looking forward to it finally being answered.

I’ve been in favor of expanding GO services into the Niagara region since the day I moved here – I think the region needs to become a satellite community of the GTA to increase its tax base and bring younger families to the peninsula.  This will happen if the ability to travel quickly and inexpensively to outside areas of employment exists – it’s one of those “If you build it, they will come” situations.

From an anecdotal perspective, that’s happening – ridership seems to be increasing, judging by the number of people I see waiting at the stop each morning when I go to the YMCA.  I would be interested to see if that anecdote bears out in the actual numbers, but increasing ridership will take some time, as I said above.  It’s a new option – ridership can’t happen overnight.

So why are we still waiting for a park-and-ride?  Even a temporary solution would be better than what people have now, which is nothing.  Even just adequate shelter for people during inclement weather would be an improvement on the current situation.  I understand that the Mayor can’t give definite timelines, given that he doesn’t control the funding, but SOMEONE must be able to offer some insight.