Make a deal: Watson

The message from Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson is clear – either Innisfil and Barrie negotiate a boundary deal or the province will do it for them. “He wants us at the table and he wants us to work this out,” Innisfil Mayor Brian Jackson said a few hours after meeting with Watson at Queen’s Park. “He said he’s not going to allow us to let this drag on for another year.” Watson told the Innisfil contingent, which included Conservative MPP Julia Munro, that the province would step in if a settlement can’t be made that gives Barrie more land to develop. Jackson’s meeting with Watson followed a similar meeting the Liberal Cabinet minister had with Barrie. Jackson said he called Barrie Mayor Dave Aspden after his meeting with Watson to set up an initial meeting. “This would be just to lay some ground work,” he said. “We have to see if there is a foundation we can build on.” Talks were aborted last year after Innisfil left the table. A proposed deal brokered by a provincially-appointed facilitator short-changed Innisfil, Jackson said. Innisfil wanted one-acre of its employment zone in Innisfil Heights on the Hwy. 400 corridor serviced by Barrie for every acre it gave the city through boundary adjustments. But the deal would have seen Innisfil give up three acres for every acre of serviced land. There have been no negotiations since. Watson did not give the municipalities a firm deadline, although it was clear he wanted the long-standing issue resolved within the next few months, Jackson said. “He gave us a couple of dates that just weren’t feasible,” Jackson said. “I think he may have been testing us.” Watson did not suggest a provincially-appointed facilitator be used this time, Jackson said. Jackson has suggested Barrie may be stalling the process, hoping for the province to invoke boundary adjustments that would benefit the city. “I guess Barrie must decide if they’ll benefit more from a political solution than a negotiated one,” Jackson said. Coun. Jeff Lehman, Barrie’s chairperson for boundary adjustments, has said the city remains serious about finding a local solution. Watson met with the municipalities after Barrie MPP Aileen Carroll, a Liberal Cabinet minister, asked him to intervene. Carroll complained that the stalemate was stifling Barrie’s ability to develop, especially since the province has designated it as a regional growth centre.


Ease tax burden to save jobs, politicians say

Simcoe County should ease the burden on companies to keep jobs as well as attract new ones as it sets taxes this year, some county politicians say. With a $437-million budget that requires a 3.4 per cent tax hike, the county must now set tax ratios — that is, how to spread the bill among the classes of properties, such as residential, commercial and farm. Based on last year’s practices, a home assessed at $200,000 would see an increase of $19.59. But the county has the option of using certain tax tools to protect — and even stimulate — business. Shifting more of the tax burden to residential from industrial is one method. “Most folks in economic development recognize job growth comes from existing, not new, businesses,” said Collingwood Mayor Chris Carrier, who urged the county’s strategic Performance Management Committee to recommend the change. “We can take a leadership role. We have a diverse base in Collingwood and I do realize it would mean shifting (taxes) onto residents, but it could mean stronger employment for Collingwood and our neighbours as well.” In these tough times, giving business a break could mean the difference between being profitable and being unprofitable or locating here or going elsewhere, added Essa Mayor David Guergis. “We had a company looking to build two plants. We thought they were coming. But they went to the United States,” Guergis said. “Now the taxes are zero and the jobs are zero, and they’re gone to the U.S. The development charge loss is huge. “(A break on taxes) could make a difference on your bottom line on whether you’re profitable or not. It’s not a big burden for the ratepayers to hold jobs. It might mean $15 more and being able to keep and attract factories.” County councillors have until April 30 to set the tax-ratio policy, and are expected to discuss the issue at a strategic planning session March 31


Angus Early Years Centre closing March 31

After several battles to keep the doors to the Ontario Early Years Centre (OEYC) in Angus open, it is closing March 31. Users of the centre were given notice Feb. 27 that the OEYC on Mill Street in Angus is closing for good. The letter also notified parents that the same programming would be offered through outreach programs at other locations in the community. Losing the central location is a concern for parents who regularly use the programming. Debbie Skiffington has been bringing her two-and-a-half-year-old twins to the OEYC programs for over a year, since she moved to the area from Georgetown. Being new to the area, Skiffington said the OEYC helped her access information through resources at the site or be pointed in the right direction for services not available at the location. "It’s just been great the amount of information I’ve gotten out of that place," Skiffington said. Skiffington likes the OEYCs routine, from visiting the office to the activities it provides for her children. She said the programming reiterates things for children that they are already learning at home, like washing their hands and not wandering around while eating. The programs are also a reminder for parents, who she said regularly learn helpful tips at the OEYC. "That location means so much to the people that go there," she said. "It’s hard to put into words the impact it’s going to have on all these people that use it." As the site is cleared of its resources, why is the lingering question for Skiffington. She said every time she’s at the centre it’s busy, so she doesn’t know how usage could be an issue. "Maybe it’s just not enough," said Skiffington. E3 Community Services is responsible for the Angus and Alliston locations of the OEYC, which are satellite locations of the main site in Collingwood. The OEYC does receive provincial funding, which is given to E3 to distribute between the three locations. Over the past year, Ministry of Child and Youth Services spokesperson Cristina Brandau said E3’s OEYC funding hasn’t changed. Brandau said the programs previously offered at the Mill Street centre are going to be at community centres, churches and schools in the area. "We want to create as little disruption as possible for families," said Brandau. In continuing to offer services to Angus, the Ministry said outreach programs are the most cost-effective option. It was a year ago that Angus last faced service cutbacks. At that time, OEYC notified the landlord of the building where the OEYC is located that the organization wouldn’t be renewing its lease in June. MPP Jim Wilson petitioned the closing and the doors stayed open past the June deadline, however hours at the centre were slashed. E3 also said they were reviewing the programming in Angus. Wilson said at that time it was public pressure that helped keep the level of programming in Angus. "Keep the pressure up," said Wilson. "Don’t give up because the government made a decision, governments have reversed decisions." This year, Skiffington said she and other parents started hearing rumours that the doors are closing for good about a month ago, with the real worry starting when items at the site started getting cleared out. Confirmation came when the users received their letter about the centre. She said now that people are used to the changes in programs and hours last year, the location is actually closing. "It’s frustrating," she said. E-mail reporter Maija Hoggett at 


Whatever floats their cardboard boats

On your marks, get set, float. Staying afloat was the primary goal during the Great Cardboard Boat Race at the Innisfil Recreation Complex Wednesday. Grade 8 students from the public and separate school boards took part in the competition, which was as much about design and ingenuity as it was about paddle power. The program was set up by the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP). Judging of the boats was based on construction, speed, weight and team spirit. “The cardboard boat races are for students who have an interest in design and construction,” said Andrea Brulé, OYAP co-ordinator. “The event involves planning, teamwork, problem solving, and most importantly, it’s a fun and interactive learning experience for our Grade 8 students.” The students worked in teams of four and had two hours to build their boat with the provided supplies, including cardboard, duct tape, contact cement, string and a paperclip. Once they were built, students put their creations in the pool and raced with at least one student occupant. If the boat survived the race, they were entered into the weight competition where the boat must stay afloat for a minimum of two minutes with as many students inside as the teams wish. The record to date is a boat holding seven students for two minutes before collapsing.


Vandal menaces Victoria Harbour

Residents of Victoria Harbour appear to have their very own Dennis the Menace. Upwards of half-a-dozen locations were barraged last week with what police suspect to be a slingshot. “Southern Georgian Bay OPP officers have spent a considerable amount of time following a trail of destruction that was left behind by a person who was launching ball bearings at windows, lights and parked cars,” Const. Peter Leon stated in a news release. A large window at the Community Centre on Park Street, three overhead lights at the ice rink and two windows at St. Antoine Daniel School were also damaged, as were a backhoe on a McDermit Trail construction site and a number of parked cars on Robin’s Point Road. Leon said quarter-inch ball bearings were found at several of the scenes, and police suspect there may be other incidents that have yet to be reported.


Midland police get three per cent pay hike

After months of contract negotiations, Midland police officers will be receiving a three per cent pay hike. After talks stalled and the two sides were forced to go before a conciliator, the Midland Police Services Board and the Midland Police Association came to an agreement and finalized a new contract on March 24. Board chair Rob McKenzie said the only change in the new contract was a three per cent wage increase for the three-year contract – which is retroactive to 2008 and extends to the end of 2010. “Other than that, there were no dollar increases in any other areas,” he said, adding there were also some language changes that don’t affect the contract, as well as some small changes for clarification. The holdup, he acknowledged, was a proposed change in vacation time. Midland police officers work 12-hour shifts for four days, and had wanted to keep the vacation program currently in place, which is tied to that 48-hour workweek. The board had been trying to change it to a 40-hour week. “(The Midland Police Service has) a different vacation schedule than most other services in the province. We were trying to bring us in line with that,” McKenzie said, adding the board had offered an extensive package of fringe benefits, but they were ultimately withdrawn. “We felt it came out OK as far as the community is concerned. In light of the economic situation, the average is around three per cent increase for police services,” he said. “We have a great police service in town and a very dedicated personnel, and the leadership is excellent.” McKenzie said the board and the rank-and-file officers are satisfied by the deal: “I have no reason to feel anyone was disgruntled about it.” Calls to police association president Sgt. Mike Burrows were not returned.


Fees for leaf and yard waste collection approved

Meaford council at its regular meeting last Tuesday night approved a set of fees for residents and businesses to pay when they bring their leaf and yard waste to the new processing facility at the Operations Centre on the 7th Line. During the budget process council instructed municipal staff to achieve $35,000 in revenue from the new leaf and yard waste collection centre at the Operations Centre. The municipality constructed the new facility last year at a significant cost. It became mandatory when the provincial government stepped in and would no longer allow the municipality to simply allow residents to drop off their leaf and yard waste whenever they pleased. The new facility has strict operating standards as required by the province for how to maintain the compost material and collect the run off from the material. Operations Director Stephen Vokes recommended the following fees for the facility: $2 for one bag of material, $5 for small car load of material, $10 for a medium truck or trailer load of material and $20 for a large load of material from a commercial operation. Vokes said based on previous amounts collected by the municipality those fees should generate the $35,000 mandated by council. The leaf and yard waste facility will be open similar hours as the Transfer Station on Miller Street on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. The report from Vokes generated a lot of discussion around the council table. Councillor Lynda Stephens said she isn’t aware of any leaf and yard waste facility that charges up front fees to collect the material. She said the facilities she has visited charge for the compost material after the fact. Councillor Gerald Shortt said he couldn’t support charging residents to compost their yard waste. Shortt said the facility should be offered to the public free of charge as a service provided by the municipality. Councillor Jim McPherson wondered why a resident would bring their waste to the facility with a minimum charge of $2 per bag. McPherson questioned what incentive local residents would have to compost their yard waste under the suggested fees. "They can put it out at the curb for $2 a bag," noted McPherson. Vokes said McPherson is correct, but pointed out that leaf and yard waste is not allowed to be put out for pick-up at the curb. "The incentive is to do it properly," said Vokes. Council approved the report and the recommended fees in a 5-2 vote with councillors Shortt and Stephens opposed. The facility is presently open on Fridays and Saturdays with no fees being charged. The charges will be collected once a bylaw is passed by council establishing the fee schedule.


Man threatens common-law wife’s mother

Threatening to blow up the car of your common-law wife’s mother is not the best way to snag an invitation to Easter dinner. However, a 22-year-old Midland man turned himself in to police on April 8 for doing just that. The incident in question happened March 23. The man reportedly uttered a threat to his common-law spouse and said he would blow up her mother’s vehicle. Charged with uttering threats to cause bodily harm or death, as well as uttering threats to damage property, the man was held in custody for a bail hearing in Barrie.


Assault charges laid against superjail guard

A guard at the Central North Correctional Centre has been charged with assaulting an inmate. Const. Peter Leon of Southern Georgian Bay OPP said he could not elaborate on specifics, including the exact nature of the alleged assault. “It is an ongoing investigation, so we’re really not in a position to disclose those particulars right now,” he said. “(The victim) did sustain an injury that was consistent with the level of assault charges that were laid,” he added, noting the person “is experiencing significant discomfort as a result of the injury.” Detectives from the detachment’s crime unit arrested a corrections officer on March 7 after receiving a complaint from an inmate. A 25-year-old Penetanguishene man has been charged with assault and assault causing bodily harm. The alleged incident occurred Feb. 9 at the facility commonly referred to as the superjail. Stuart McGetrick, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which has responsibility for the superjail, said he is unaware of any previous cases where assault charges were laid against a guard there. “What I can tell you is, any time we receive a complaint from an inmate, it’s something that we take seriously,” he said. “It’s something that is always thoroughly investigated.” The nature of the complaint determines if it is handled in-house or if police need to be involved, he added. “I can’t talk about this specific case because it’s still under investigation,” McGetrick said. “If it’s a serious complaint, then we will inform the police straight away, but we always conduct our own investigation, as well.” In this case, the decision was made to contact the OPP. The local detachment has a team of detectives whose primary responsibility is investigating incidents at the provincially run jail. Leon, meanwhile, said there is no difference between how police treat an incident behind bars and how they respond to something that occurs in a more public setting. “(Detectives) conducted an investigation, thorough and detailed, of course, as any investigation would be,” he said. “They would go through the exact same procedure they would with any other member of the public.” Leon said he hopes the investigation will be completed by Monday, at which time more information may be released. In the meantime, the accused is scheduled to appear in Midland court on April 16.


Meaford residents face hefty tax hike

Taxpayers of the Municipality of Meaford are staring at another large property tax increase in 2009. Meaford council held a special all-day budget meeting at Meaford Hall last Thursday and received its first glimpse at the proposed 2009 budget. Financial consultant David Kennedy gave a detailed operating budget presentation about each municipal department at the meeting for members of council. The capital budget for 2009 and the budgets for the water and sewage departments were not available at Thursday’s meeting. The proposed 2009 budget presented by Kennedy would increase municipal expenses to more than $10.1 million in 2009. As a result, Kennedy has forecasted that the amount the municipality collects in local property taxes must increase by $1,537,400. He said that amount represents an increase of approximately 18%. Kennedy said when school board and Grey County taxes are factored into the equation Meaford ratepayers face an overall tax increase of between 8-9%. At the end of the meeting council declared that an 18% local tax increase is unacceptable and mandated municipal staff to prepare a budget that reduces that number to 8%. "We want them to reduce on non-essential services," said Mayor Francis Richardson after the meeting. "We also asked (staff) to take a look at a couple scenarios with different percentages, but the key point is the affect on services," said the Mayor. In 2008 local taxes increased more than 20% – with the overall increase being approximately 11%. Operating expenses for all municipal departments are increasing in the proposed 2009 budget. The only department showing an overall decrease in expenses is the municipality’s Cultural department (Meaford Hall and the Meaford Museum). The decrease in that department is attributed to revenue growth at Meaford Hall. Kennedy explained to council that there are many reasons for the large increase. He said the 2008 budget ended up with a deficit of approximately $150,000. The deficit was caused by two primary factors: increased snow removal costs (a situation all municipalities have encountered) and less revenue anticipated from the federal government as a grant in lieu of taxes for the military base. The 2008 deficit is not final because the municipality has not yet received its rebate from the OPP. Other costs pressures in 2009 included: the budgeting of benefit costs relating to employees from the former municipal police force in Meaford. Kennedy noted that this has always been a cost for Meaford, but has not been included in the past few budgets. The proposed 2009 budget also includes the costs of a full-time CAO and an overall pay increase for municipal staff of more than 4%. The staff pay increase represents just over $200,000 in additional costs for the municipality in the budget. Kennedy told council the situation is daunting. "Are we going to bite the bullet on (18%)? Or are we going to eliminate or reduce services going forward?" said Kennedy. Councillor Gerald Shortt pointed out repeatedly that the municipality is proposing another large tax increase and the tax budget still does not contain any funding for capital infrastructure improvements in the municipality or funding to pay down the 2007 deficit. Mayor Francis Richardson called the presentation "eye opening." "There is so little that we have any control over, but we can’t leave the figures as they have been presented. We have to do something about this," said the Mayor. Deputy Mayor Mike Traynor said if council moves forward at 18% they will face an angry public. "I think the community will go ballistic if they see a double digit increase this year," said Traynor. The question facing council at Thursday meeting was: "What can be cut from the budget?" After breaking for lunch council met in the afternoon to discuss potential cuts. Many members of council favoured a broader discussion about services levels and if cuts are possible, but specific suggestions for cuts did not emerge. Only councillor Jim McPherson was willing to make a straightforward proposal. McPherson called for an immediate 25% cut to all non-essential services. He did not specify which services he considered non-essential. "I totally disagree with the direction this council is taking. We have not differentiated between essential and non-essential services and you’re looking at double digit increases again next year and probably the year after," said McPherson. "I can’t support this," he said. Councillor Gerald Shortt said he wanted to have the discussion McPherson proposed, but he wanted to see specific suggestions. "Tell me where you want to cut," Shortt told McPherson. "I might not agree with you, but I want to know where these proposed cuts are," he said. Both Kennedy and CAO Frank Miele said cuts to the budget would have to come in the form of reduced or eliminated services. Kennedy told council it makes no sense to order a mandatory 10% reduction in the budget. "How do you reduce staff salaries by 10%?" Kennedy questioned. "Tell me the level of service to reduce or tell me the service you’re going to eliminate – then you will have an impact on this budget," said Kennedy. "Which service do you want to minimize or eliminate? That’s the issue," Miele told council. "I haven’t heard anybody say this service isn’t essential and I’m prepared to eliminate it," said the CAO. Council will meet again to discuss the budget on Thursday evening at 4:30 p.m. at the council chambers.