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Quick review of the year, thank people who have helped us
all of our previous guests.
By John Matisz METRO
The addition of a chain restaurant to Londonlicious has led one independent local eatery to withdraw from the annual food festival.
Kantina Restaurant, a downtown spot serving mostly eastern European dishes, has pulled out of the food festival because its owner feels the event’s core vision has been tarnished.
The festival, which runs from Jan. 17 to Feb. 3, has traditionally been promoted as a hyper-local experience. However, upon hearing it added Moxie’s — a bar and grill founded in Calgary and prominent across Canada — to its restaurant list, Kantina quit, saying Londonlicious was headed in the wrong direction.
Throughout the winter culinary event approximately 35 locally owned and managed restaurants — ranging from cultural hub Budapest to upscale Crave — offer the public the opportunity to dine at local restaurants featuring fixed price menus. This allows restaurant-goers to enjoy a three-course meal for $20 to $30, while also celebrating the local culinary scene.
Two of Moxie’s 63 Canadian restaurants are located in Forest City and because it employs several Londoners, Londonlicious organizer Andy Wilson says, the casual restaurant meets the event’s entrance criteria.
“Moxie’s contacted me, and they had a great argument,” Wilson said. “And I told them it would be a trial run. I told them, ‘We’ll see how the community reacts, how the other restaurants react to it.’”
There was a lengthy message posted on Kantina’s Facebook page on Monday. It outlines the rationale behind the withdrawal, and says Londonlicious is “selling out.”
“While we understand this is only one restaurant, it sets precedent with which we are not at all comfortable,” reads the post. Wilson, who admits he weighed the pros and cons of the situation before ultimately coming to a decision, argues the inclusion of Moxie’s is an experiment. Nothing is set in stone for next year’s lineup.
“I really don’t see the addition of Moxie’s taking away from the other restaurants,” he added.
College and university building projects
PAT MALONEY FREE PRESS
Politicians gave an A+ Tuesday to a pair of separate, student-focused residential high rises planned near London’s post-secondary pillars, Western University and Fanshawe College.
Council’s planning committee unanimously endorsed the two major projects — 19 stories near Western; 15 stories near Fanshawe — that’ll house some 430 separate rental units.
“This is exactly what we want near our universities, near our colleges,” Mayor Joe Fontana said as politicians recommended the projects’ site plans.
The Western-area project will be on the west side of Richmond St. N., north of the university gates. Five houses will be levelled to make way for the 19-storey structure, home to more than 300 two-bedroom units.
The project near Fanshawe, to be built at the southwest corner of the Oxford-First streets intersection, will offer 126 three- four- and five-bedroom units. It’s drawn the college’s enthusiastic support, city staff say.
It also grabbed the attention of Peter White, head of the London Economic Development Corp.
White says the builder, Adamas Group, plans to make the building a supportive place for much-coveted foreign students. If, for example, enough Chinese students move in, they’ll hire an interpreter to ease their transition to Canada, he said.
“This is going to be a very groundbreaking development for us,” White told politicians. “(It could be) an outstanding, supportive environment for bringing international students to the city.”
Staff told politicians the projects did draw some negativity — particularly from those now renting single-family homes to students, who fear the high rises will leave the market dried up.
That, though, is kind of the point, city planner John Fleming said, noting getting students out of single-family homes is a key part of London’s near-campus neighbourhood strategy.
“This type of housing (high rises) is far superior to address those near-campus neighbourhood concerns,” he said.
100,000 to the worlds
ANGELA MULLINS _ METRO
And it’s more than just a dot on the map — it’s a place that’s alive with culture, dining, and spirit.
That’s the thrust behind a marketing campaign that city leaders are asking council to throw $100,000 behind in advance of the World Figure Skating Championships.
The funding request — being tabled at Tuesday’s corporate services committee — would be matched with money from city partners. The city’s portion, administrators suggest, would come from a contingency reserve fund.
Mayor Joe Fontana likes the idea, created by a Welcoming the World to London project team. The team was comprised of representatives from city staff, tourism officials, the arts council, and the London Economic Development Corp.
He says he’s been concerned for some time that various websites — like those for Western, Fanshawe, Tourism London, and the LEDC — don’t have a common “brand.” In addition to serving as a “welcome mat” during the figure skating championships logos created for the Canada’s London campaign could be used on those websites to link them together, Fontana said.
SAME – PAT MALONEY FREE PRESS
London politicians will spend plenty of time over the next two months battling over taxpayers’ nickels and dimes as they set this year’s budget priorities.
But the spending sparring clearly hasn’t started.
Debate over a $200,000 staff request to market London during March’s world figure skating championships was as smooth as, well, ice Tuesday, with council’s corporate services committee endorsing the plan unanimously.
Mayor Joe Fontana repeated what he’s said throughout previous debates over costs related to the extravaganza — the event expected to draw 35,000 spectators and a worldwide viewing audience of 160 million is simply too big to skimp on spending.
“This is the most important thing that this city will do, I think, in its lifetime,” the mayor said. “This is about as big as it gets.”
Built around a logo that reads Canada’s London, banners and signs will start popping up around the city in the run-up to the March 11-17 championships.
The push that requires final council approval would be funded from two sources: $100,000 from the city’s expected 2012 budget surplus, and $100,000 combined from other city agencies, such as Tourism London and the London Economic Development Corp.
PAT MALONEY FREE PRESS
Where the budget is now: 2.5%
- Staff tabled a budget Tuesday that calls for a 2.5% tax hike next year, which would add $59 to the property-tax bill of an average London home (average being a property assessed at $202,000).
- The starting point is down dramatically from a previously projected starting point of 4.3%.
- That difference, about $8.5 million, was found through several spending cuts to such areas as economic development, road repairs, sidewalk snow removal and road sweeping.
- Challenged on his 2010 campaign pledge to deliver four straight tax freezes without cutting services, Mayor Joe Fontana told reporters Tuesday he said “essential services,” which he maintains are not affected.
Where they want to get: 0%
- Some councillors, led by the mayor, want to deliver a third-straight tax freeze, and getting there means finding $11.5 million in spending cuts or new revenue sources by February’s end.
- The path there will be painful, warn staff, who say cuts to libraries, housing and the London Transit Commission are needed just to get within shouting distance of zero.
- City treasurer Martin Hayward is warning against redirecting money from city reserve funds to hold down taxes, which was a major tool a slim council majority used last year to get a freeze.
- Fontana didn’t rule out tapping into reserve money if needed: “Balance is the right approach. Reserve funds — nobody’s talking about raiding them.”
Neither of these figures (2.5% or 0%) include the water- and sewer-rate increases already approved for 2013
–Compiled by Patrick Maloney, Free Press reporter
— — —
Jan. 9: Politicians tuck into operating budget and “service changes.”
Jan. 14: Public participation meeting, in council chambers at city hall
Jan. 24: Politicians debate operating budget.
Feb. 7: Politicians debate capital budget.
Feb. 13: Public participation meeting, in council chambers at city hall
Feb. 28: Final budget approval
— — —
Comments about the 2013 budget
“Some critical decisions will have to be made . . . to get us to zero. . . . I am as committed as I was yesterday . . . to hitting the zero tax target. I am committed to zero.”
Mayor Joe Fontana
“Reserve funds are needed to keep running. Without liquidity (cash-on-hand) you can’t survive.”
City treasurer Martin Hayward
“Don’t waiver from the financial principles you have in place.”
“There’s millions of dollars circulating that otherwise wouldn’t be in our local economy (thanks to 2011, 2012 freezes).”
Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen
“7.7%? Come on — get real. That is not sustainable.”
Fontana, on the fire department’s hoped-for budget increase
–Compiled by Free Press reporter Pat Maloney
What tax hike would you like to see in London?
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
|2.5% — with few spending cuts to such areas as economic development, road repairs, sidewalk snow removal and road sweeping|
|0% — with the above cuts, as well as to libraries, housing and the London Transit Commission|
LIBRARY – PAT MALONEY – FREE PRESS
he books are open on city hall’s 2013 budget battle and ground zero may as well be amid the stacks at the London public Library.
The board overseeing the city’s library system has submitted, as requested by politicians, a 2013 spending plan that includes no increases — but it’s clear board members aren’t endorsing the cuts they say that freeze will force.
Among them, according to the letter, are:
- Eliminating all remaining Sunday operations (saving $40,000)
- Cuts to the collections budget ($100,000)
- Reduced service hours ($210,000)
- Undefined “personnel” actions ($60,000)
While the board has created a proposed budget in line with council’s order to freeze its spending, its members are clearly pushing back against the fallout.
“(We are) not recommending any of the actions that are required to achieve the financial target,” the letter to politicians reads.
They’re not alone in their resistance.
With council’s Fontana 8 majority likely to push for a third straight tax freeze — and at least $11.5 million in spending cuts or new cash sources between them and that goal — significant citizen outcry is expected.
SEAN MEYER – LONDON COMMUNITY NEWS
London Community Newsby Sean Meyer
The draft 2013 City of London budget (operating and capital) was presented to the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee on Dec. 4 with staff bringing back the recommendation of a 2.5 per cent property tax levy increase.
That increase would translate into a $59 increase to a homeowner with an assessed property value of $202,000. The submitted property tax levy increase of 2.5 per cent from rates or $11.5 million includes $8.5 million of budget savings resulting from one-time reductions in 2012 that have been submitted as permanent reductions for 2013 (e.g. affordable housing, capital grants), user fee increases, and service changes.
The dollar amount based on the average residential tax bill — the municipal portion of property tax would amount to $2,410 — would be allocated across several departments and services.
The largest portion of the budget, 32 per cent, would be spent on protective services while 26 per cent is to be spent on corporate operations and council services. The remainder of the budget is broken down as follow: 14 per cent to social and health services, 11 per cent to transportation, six per cent to parks and recreation, five per cent to culture, three per cent to environmental services, two per cent to economic prosperity and one per cent planning and development services.
Putting the residential tax bill in perspective, London compares favorably to 26 other cities across Ontario. Based on a three-bedroom, 1,200 sq. ft. home with 1.5 baths and a single-car garage, the average property tax is $3,079. The average property tax is $3,293.
London does even better in the commercial and industrial sectors. London has the lowest rate, $2.23/sq. ft., among those same 26 municipalities with the average being $3.28/sq. ft. In the industrial sector, London places third with $1.51/sq. ft. while the average is $2.04/sq. ft.
To continue down the path to zero, a further $8.3 million of budget savings have been prepared — including additional service changes and capital budget reductions that require prudent consideration and review by council. In total, $16.8 million of budget savings have been provided with business cases that explain the service impacts that would result in a possible 0.7 per cent or $3.2 million tax levy increase for 2013.
In order to achieve zero per cent, council will need to address those service areas that have not achieved target, as well as, the funding requirements for the economic development initiatives being brought forward to the Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee, and the London Normal School.
The civic administration has prepared 54 business cases for the elimination/preservation of various city services.
To arrive at a tax levy increase of 2.5 per cent, council would have to look at some 29 recommendations, including:
– Extending the life cycle for fleet vehicles and equipment;
– Reduction in Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities program;
– Reduction in capital grant program funding;
– Reduced municipal investment in affordable housing initiatives;
– Neighbourhood and recreation user fee rate increases;
– Reduced investment in economic prosperity;
– Reduced support to Downtown Business Improvement Area;
– Elimination of double decker bus tours;
– Reduction in non-direct services for Middlesex London Health Unit; and
– Review of road and downtown maintenance, road patching and sidewalk snow removal.
To arrive at a tax levy increase of 0.7 per cent, council would have to look at an additional 25 recommendations, including:
– Reduction in bike lane program;
– Elimination of Emerald Ash Borer Strategy funding;
– Delay in landfill site property acquisition;
– Repurposing of recreation and community facilities and provision of spray pads;
– Delay in new Fire Station 16;
– Delay Commissioners Road improvements;
– Reduction in bus purchase replacements;
– Review of library hours of service, Sunday service and collection budget; and
– Review of the public housing service review.
The budget process will involve numerous opportunities for the public to become involved in the deliberations. Among those opportunities is a pair of public participation meetings on Jan. 14, 2013 and Feb. 13, 2013.
All budget meetings will be streamed live at www.london.ca.
Council will give final approval to the budget at its meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.
ABE OUSHORN BLOG
ON THE MATH
There’s saving the tax payer money, and then there’s ‘kicking the can down the road’. By this phrase I mean simply taking expenses we have to pay, and waiting to later to pay them. Whether it’s delaying service to our City vehicles ($543,000), delaying funds for accessibility adaptations ($561,000), delaying the neighbourhood hubs ($93,000), delaying the In Motion health promotion project ($40,000), delaying the new fire service training tower ($2,398,000), delaying new bike lanes ($110,000), delaying purchasing new landfill properties ($1,000,000 in 2014), delaying building a new fire station (700,000 starting in 2017), delaying Commissioners Rd improvements ($5,250,000 in 2020), delaying purchasing industrial land ($600,000), and delaying replacing buses ($500,000), you might be shocked to learn that over $4,800,000 of ‘cuts’ for 2012 (not to mention going forward projections) are things we’ll just have to pay for later.
So, if it’s about saving you the tax payer money, it shouldn’t mean leveraging more money from you in other ways, should it? Well, you would be wrong. Through increased recreation facility fees ($137,000), building approval fees ($19,000), fence inspection fees ($5,000), rental unit licensing fees ($180,000), bounced cheque fees ($6,000), and taxation service fees ($59,000), $406,000 of tax reduction is done by increasing our fees.
Reserves funds are NOT rainy day funds, they are the chequing accounts for our different City programs that we use to pay our bills. So, when a program or division needs to spend money, having cash in the reserve fund means they don’t have to borrow to spend, saving us $1.4 million in interest payments this year alone. This is why healthy reserves are a major part of our ‘triple A’ credit rating. Much of the money in reserves is already accounted for in anticipated bills or contracts already signed. Of the $191,000,000 in reserves, $113,000,000 of that is already planned to be spent. So, this isn’t just piles of cash we are sitting on. However, once again we see a proposed $1,000,000 reduction to the Affordable Housing Reserve Fund.
The greatest hit to the pocket book, as any family knows, is to put operating expenses (ie. food and mortgage), onto the credit card. So, increasing debt has not only negative long-term consequences, but exponential negative long-term consequences. No Council can claim to be fiscally responsible if they are shoulder future Londoners with more debt while ‘saving us money’. Guess what, this is exactly what is happening. Prior to 2010, we were in the process of paying down our debt, which costs us $60,300,000 annually in servicing costs. In 2010, our total debt was $319.8M, but with the change to taking on more debt, we are now sitting at $347.2M in debt. And the plans of our 0% Council? To have us at $477.1M by 2014. Yes, that’s right, the 0% tax increase has come hand-in-hand with and 8.6% debt increase to date, with a projected 4-year 49% debt increase. If rates hold the same, and we reach the forecasted debt level, we will be paying $22.2M more in debt servicing in 2014 than we are in 2012. Even if we start holding debt even as of 2015, our debt servicing costs by 2020 will be $91.3M, or about 50% more than they are now.
BRENT BOLES – LONDON FREE PRESS
London is about to get a lot more awesome — or at least, that’s the goal.
The Awesome Foundation is giving away monthly $1,000 grants to people who come up with awesome plans to improve the community.
The group was founded in Boston in 2009, and has since spread worldwide, but this is its debut in London. The foundation website says $374,000 has been granted thus far by its 61 chapters.
But they’re not giving the money away to just any idea.
“Just crazy, awesome ideas,” explained Chris Moss, an event organizer.
Moss said entries must follow three rules: the money can’t be for personal use, it can’t go to established charities and the application has to be specific.
To decide which London idea is most impressive, a 10-member board of trustees will vote on each application.
Each trustee puts up $100 of his or her own money, she said. There are 40 trustees signed up, and more on a waiting list, each will pay $100 three times a year in hopes of making the grant program sustainable.
“We’re hoping to go forever,” said Moss. “We have to stay awesome. We want the city to be amazing.”
Shawn Adamsson is a trustee, and his company Rtraction has donated as well. He’s excited about the potential to change London’s culture.
“What I hope it will do is nudge people out the door with their crazy ideas and it doesn’t matter if they work or they fail or what happens to it, but that we try,” he said. “We don’t have a really great culture of failure in this city. And failure goes with innovation and trying to move things forward.”
Though the Awesome Foundation is new to London, it’s being welcomed by at least one well-established local foundation.
“I think it’s great,” said Martha Powell, president of the London Community Foundation. “This is a space that’s nice to fill.”
Powell said many groups only offer grants to registered charities, so a project like the Awesome Foundation can help with ideas that normally wouldn’t get funding. She also hopes it will inspire more Londoners to get involved.
“If it engages a younger demographic in giving to their community, then that’s wonderful,” she said.
Deadline for submissions is Jan. 14. The top three candidates will pitch their ideas in person and a winner will be chosen at a public event at Joe Kool’s restaurant, 595 Richmond St., on Jan. 28, said Moss.
All about Awesome
– The Awesome Foundation was founded in 2009
– The group gives out grants to help get awesome ideas off the ground
– Applications can range from clubs and social justice projects to public art and science experiments — anything “awesome”
– Though new to London, the group has given out $374,000 to support 374 ideas in 12 countries
– Check out twitter.com/awesomeldn