PETITIONING FOR AFTER HOURS VET CARE
The city’s after-hours vet shortage was Coun. Adam Kilner’s pet peeve at Monday’s council meeting.
Two petitions are circulating that plead with local vets to find a solution, one with 550 signatures and another with more than 4,500 signatures, said Coun. Kilner.
“I do think we’re at a critical time to initiate a conversation…around access to more vets,” he said. “It may include talking to the provincial government (about more) vet schools.”
Coun. Kilner said he had a pet die during regular business hours. That was bad enough, he said. “I can’t imagine being told after hours that the nearest vet was three hours away.”
Sarnians are increasingly told to seek emergency after-hours vet care in London, Windsor, Brantford and sometimes as far away as Mississauga.
Coun. Terry Burrell suggested that staff ask the Sarnia & District Humane Society if it can help with after-hours vet care.
Coun. George Vandenburg is a current board member with the humane society and said he will take the issue to the board to discuss what may be feasible.
Contacted later by The Journal, humane society board chairman Bob Farlow said he isn’t sure what his board can offer.
“There’s a real shortage of vets in our area and that’s no one’s fault,” said Farlow. “The humane society is in the same position as everyone else.”
Farlow said he believes a vet shortage exists in many communities and he doesn’t understand why veterinarian schools aren’t graduating more.
Some kind of rotation among existing vets for after-hours care may be a solution, he added.
“But vets work hard and I don’t know if they can pool their resources like that.”
Farlow said the issue could be up for discussion at the humane society’s next meeting on Feb. 21.
BLUEWATER GYMNASTICS CONSIDERS PURCHASE OF BUILDING
It’s time for Bluewater Gymnastics to renegotiate its lease for its city-owned building at Lottie Neely Park.
The club wants to remain at the facility, which was custom built for gymnastics 20 years ago, spokesperson Lauren McDonald told council. The current lease expires at the end of 2023.
It’s a “fabulous” facility and low rental rates have allowed Bluewater Gymnastics to charge less for programming than many other clubs, she said.
It’s also in an ideal location to serve the 1,000 children and youth in its programs, McDonald added.
While the club is known for its elite athletes, 65% of its clientele is under the age of five, highlighting its unique value to the Sarnia community.
The club is currently paying about $25,000 a year, which McDonald conceded is a very low rate that’s allowed the club to keep its hourly user fees low.
After researching current rent conditions, McDonald suggested one option is to triple the current rent paid to the city to $73,000 a year for five years. Alternately, the club wants the city to consider allowing for a 2,500-square-foot addition and increasing the rent to $119,600 a year for 10 years.
Without an expansion, the club is unable to host competitions, noted McDonald. An addition would also facilitate growth plans to double the club’s users.
The final option involves the club purchasing the building from the city at fair market value and leasing the land it sits on.
Numerous city councillors commented that Bluewater Gymnastics is a valuable asset to the city that they want to see thrive. They referred the club’s three options to staff for a recommendation to return to council at an unspecified date.
PRIVATE SNOW REMOVAL COMPANY FINDING SARNIA STREETS UNWELCOMING
That’s according to Sarnia police who have been slapping tickets on snow removal equipment with over-width blades and not allowing slow-moving Kubota RTVs on city streets, says a private contractor.
Representatives of J.D. Lawn Service were at city hall Monday to talk about the limitations local police are putting on their snow removal equipment when moving from job to job.
It wasn’t a problem for many years, but recently police have been handing out fines and towing equipment away, said operations manager Heather Dawson.
“To be clear, we have utmost respect for Sarnia police,” she said, “…but police have taken issue with our equipment on the road for safety reasons.”
The length of the blade appears to be the problem, she said. The Highway Traffic Act states a blade can only be as long as 8.5 feet, but many contractors’ blades are longer.
“We’re frustrated the city uses over-width vehicles for snow clearing, yet private contractors cannot,” said Dawson.
City councillors appeared to be in full agreement that private contractors should be able to drive their snow-clearing equipment on city roads.
But Coun. George Vandenberg pointed out that their hands were tied to some degree since the province’s Highway Traffic Act prohibits trucks with large blades to travel municipal roads.
Coun. Vandenberg asked council to petition the Ministry of Transportation for changes to Ontario regulations. “Let’s get (MPP Bob Bailey) to move on this,” Coun. Vandenberg said.
Meanwhile, council said they would do what they could by approving a bylaw to allow the use of commercial off-road vehicles on city streets.
A staff report noted that the Highway Traffic Act will continue to limit the speed of such vehicles to 20 km/hour on roads designated as 50 km/hour.
“This will have some impact on traffic flow but it should be minor,” the staff report said.
A frustrated Blackwell Road resident took his grievances about unsafe road conditions to city council Monday.
Scott Kember told council that cyclists and runners are at risk because Blackwell Road has no sidewalks or paved shoulders.
He complained of poor lighting and traffic that regularly speeds in excess of 70 kilometres an hour.
“One of these days, I’m afraid it won’t end well,” said Kember.
He asked council to improve lighting along Blackwell, west of Blackwell Sideroad and west of Telfer Road. He wants signage telling vehicles to yield to cyclists and pedestrians. He also asked for the long grass along the roadside to be cut back, and for the speed limit to be lowered to 40 km/hour.
Kember said he and his neighbours would like the city to provide access to the Howard Watson Trail on the north side of Blackwell Road and to consider a traffic light at Blackwell and Modeland. In the longterm, the neighbourhood needs sidewalks or paved shoulders, he added.
Coun. Anne Marie Gillis said she received letters about a lack of safety along Blackwell Road all weekend and asked staff if a community zone could be created there that would automatically reduce the speed limit.
That will be considered in a staff report expected in April.
NEW INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER
After an explosive few terms with council requesting numerous rulings from the city’s integrity commissioner, a new one has been hired.
Ben Drory of ADR Chambers Inc. in North York has the job for the next four years starting April 1 when the current integrity commissioner’s contract is up.
When his services are requested, Drory will be paid $300 per hour. No retainer is required.
All of council except Coun. Anne Marie Gillis endorsed the hiring of Drory.
Coun. Gillis said it was strange that only four legal firms responded to Sarnia’s Request For Proposals and only two actually submitted a bid.
Staff said they didn’t know why.
NEW TRANSIT SCHEDULES TO GET BUSES ROLLING ON TIME
City buses will operate on a 40-minute round trip schedule – as opposed to its current 30-minute schedule – starting March 19.
City staff and council agreed the new strategy should keep buses from being late without costing any money.
City buses are chronically late for a number of reasons, according to city staff. That includes: longer routes, more stops, increased ridership, more loading and unloading, and more street traffic.
Changes are being implemented after a public survey was conducted with 123 respondents. Forty percent said that their bus arrives or departs late over 50 percent of the time. Seventy-nine percent said they’ve missed a transfer due to the buses running behind schedule.
Staff suggested two other options that included more buses and operators, as well as shorter routes and fewer stops. But those options were rejected.
The approved switch to a 40-minute schedule was preferred by about one-third of the survey respondents. It will provide a wider time frame for buses to complete routes and make connections. It also means a reduction in the number of trips daily.
The change in schedule will be tested for one year as a pilot project.