Council wants high-speed proposal to go faster

Grey Highlands council wants to see high speed internet service available in rural areas as soon as possible. Council, at its regular meeting last Wednesday morning, approved a recommendation from its planning department to fast track a project that is working to extend high-speed availability to rural residents across Grey County. At the meeting Grey Highlands Planner Lorelie Spencer brought forward a report recommending that Site Plan Control fees the municipality usually charges for planning projects be condensed for Everus Communications – the company facilitating the Rural Broadband Initiative in Grey County. Everus is currently in the middle of a process to locate up to 27 high-speed internet towers across Grey County. Everus requested that Site Plan Control fees be condensed into one fee for the various towers it would like to put up in Grey Highlands. High-speed internet service in rural areas depends on a direct line of site to a customer’s home. Everus plans to strategically place towers around the county allowing broadband service to be available to a maximum number of homes. Everus has received grants from the federal government under program designed to extend high-speed internet services to rural areas across the country. Spencer told council that a reduction in the Site Plan Control fees is warranted. She recommended that a single fee of $10,000 (to cover municipal planning department costs on the project) for the entire Everus project. Under standard planning practices each tower would be treated as a separate application and charged the same fees by the municipality. Council was supportive of Spencer’s recommendation. Members of council were anxious to see broadband service extended across their municipality. Deputy Mayor Dave Fawcett wondered if council could further speed up the process by allowing municipal planning staff the ability to grant approval for applications once all conditions have been met. "This is a project for the betterment of our community. Can we streamline the process? I’m willing to delegate the approval process to staff instead of (Everus) waiting 10 days for council’s approval," said Fawcett. "I know there are a lot of people that need high speed internet," he said. Mayor Brian Mullin and Spencer said final approval of all Site Plan Control proposals rests with council. The Mayor said council needed to hold onto that authority in case public concerns arise. "Council’s approval might be the only chance for public concerns to be aired," said the Mayor. The broadband towers do not require the public process of re-zoning to move forward. Spencer recommended that all Everus sites be included in one report and approved at a single council meeting in the future. Mayor Mullin agreed with Spencer’s assessment. "I think we need the luxury that if one site requires a higher level of scrutiny that the others can move forward," he said. Deputy Mayor Fawcett was also satisfied with the suggestion that all the sites could be dealt with at once. "I think this is a fair process. If there are 10 sites and nine of them are fine we can deal with the one with issues," he said. Council approved the recommendation from Spencer.


Award nominees unveiled

Nominees for the 19th annual Nelle Carter Woman of the Year Award will be celebrated during a May 13 dinner at Hawk Ridge Golf and Country Club. Presented annually by the Orillia Business Women’s Association, the award acknowledges individuals respected for their outstanding work in the community and workplace, and who demonstrate leadership and volunteer to enhance the lives of others. It was named for Nelle Carter. In addition to a successful business career, Carter was also the first woman elected to city council. This year’s nominees are: Karen O’Coin, of BMO Nesbitt Burns; Heather Breckles, of Coldriver Manufacturing; and Debbie Sammit, of Pretty Woman Fitness Centre. Nominated for the Lisa Brooking Young Woman of the Year are: Hannah Lafayette-Brooks; Becky Healy; Lucy Hennessy; and Rhonda Rumsey. Tickets for the dinner are $40, and are available at Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop’s office, Northern Business Equipment, Advantage in Travel, or by calling Betsy Gross at 835-3725.


“Wrong spot, wrong time” says cruiser crash witness

Police have charged a 21-year-old Alliston man in connection with an OPP cruiser collision Feb. 24. The man is charged with Turn Not in Safety, under the Highway Traffic Act. The collision happened on Church Street South in Alliston at about 5 p.m. A cruiser, responding to an emergency call on Albert Street, was northbound on the road and came up to a line of three cars. The cruiser had its lights and sirens activated, but the cars did not move out of the way, police said. The officer pulled out to pass and as he was approaching the front of the line, the lead car in the group, a Honda Civic, turned left, and into his path. Both cars spun out into the west ditch, with the cruiser slamming into a sign for PPG Canada. The driver of the Civic was taken to hospital with minor injuries. The officer was not hurt. OPP Det. Sgt. Tim Melanson said it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure there is no traffic coming in either direction before making a turn into another lane. Melanson said the charge would have been the same if the Civic had turned in front of a civilian vehicle that was legally passing. "If it was a regular car that had done the same thing, it would have been no different," he said. Everett resident Ken Pratt was driving northbound not too far behind where the accident happened, and saw it unfold. He said he saw the cruisers behind him as early as when he was on Industrial Parkway, and pulled over when they came up to him. "They were going very fast," said Pratt. "(The cruiser) pulled out to go around them, and the next thing I saw was (the cruiser) going into the PPG driveway." Pratt saw a big splash of water, and assumed the cruiser had hit a puddle on the road. When he drove by and saw the cruiser has smashed into the sign, he assumed the car had lost control when it hit the puddle. Pratt said he didn’t see that another car was hit, and didn’t realize until he later read it in the newspaper. Pratt said the cruiser was travelling in a group with two other police cars. He said they all had their emergency lights on, but he doesn’t remember if the sirens were on or not. He said the narrow road made it difficult for vehicles to get all the way onto the shoulder. He said he doesn’t know how fast the cruisers were driving, but said he thought the officers were responding appropriately to an emergency call. "It was an unfortunate thing. You’re in the wrong spot at the wrong time. I think everybody was trying to do their best," he said. Melanson said the 21-year-old also could have been charged with failure to move for an emergency vehicle, but police opted not to pursue additional charges. E-mail reporter Kurtis Elsner at [email protected]


Firefighters battle Baxter house fire

Heavy smoke was pouring from a house on Denney Drive in the tiny hamlet of Baxter last night (Wed., March 25) Essa firefighters responded to the report of a house fire just before 7 p.m. at the residence located at the northwest corner of Denney Drive and Murphy Road (Baxter Road). Fire crews spent some time trying to locate the source of the blaze, which may have been in the walls or ceiling of the home. No word on the cause or damage at this post.


Tax harmony has pros/cons

Taxes may be unpalatable and inevitable, but how to best serve them up is anything but simple. After turning away from the issue repeatedly throughout his tenure as premier, Dalton McGuinty was compelled to take a stand on harmonizing the two sales tax systems in Ontario. The change takes effect in July 2010. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), a lobby group aiming “to foster sustained economic growth,” released a commissioned report entitled “Made in Ontario – The Case for Sales Tax Harmonization” at the end of January this year. The 110-page report strongly suggested McGuinty’s government institute a harmonized system to stimulate the flagging economy. “Tax reform options exist that yield benefits to households, businesses and even governments in terms of reduced costs, higher incomes and improved productivity,” states the report. “While tax reform will not solve all the economic challenges confronting the province at this time, it is an essential element in a strategy to confront these challenges.” McGuinty had no choice but to address the issue in the March budget. “He’s resisted it to this point. But (the OCC has) made it a priority issue in the public eye, so they’re being forced to deal with it,” says Orillia District Chamber of Commerce president Doug Downey. “They have to do something.” Since the goods and service tax (GST) was introduced in 1991 by then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have all adopted amalgamated methods of collecting federal and provincial sales taxes (PST). With the exception of Alberta and the territories (which have no regionalized sales tax), the remaining provinces maintain parallel procedures. Instead of a simple PST-plus-GST calculation, each maritime entity with HST has customized their formula taking into consideration the needs of regional economic engines. The customization factor is a key point of contention in Ontario. While the suggestion for tax reform is being supported in general by business leaders across the province, the sectors facing potential tax hikes under a straight-forward switch have quickly responded with reports of their own recommending exceptions to the new rules. The most vocal in this effort is the industry with the most money at stake. Representing new-home builders (and including new retail properties and renovations in the package), the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) had real-estate consulting firm Altus Group research its own case. The extensive document entitled “New Housing is Different: Implications for Sales Tax Harmonization on New Home Buyers in Ontario” was released in early March. Because the industry now enjoys a largely PST-free existence, and most HST models take their lead in the GST, the new combined tax could mean an additional eight-per-cent tacked to the price of new homes. The BILD report states this as counter-productive to an economic stimulus agenda. “All told, harmonization of PST and GST without any offsetting measures by the provincial government would rip $2.4 billon dollars out of the pockets of new homebuyers, slamming the homeownership door shut in the face of many Ontarians," said Stephen Dupuis, BILD’s president. The OCC reacted to the follow-up report saying the two proposals were not mutually exclusive. Two days after the BILD report, the OCC sought to remind Ontario that it was only the implementation model that was at question, not the concept of HST in general. In the release introducing the report, Dupuis says builders are not fighting harmonization, but for fair treatment of housing under a harmonized sales tax regime. “The reason housing gets hit so hard is that it is the biggest of the big-ticket items and it’s not currently subject to PST for good reason,” he said. “First of all, the housing industry bears costs other industries don’t bear,” says Sheila Hissa, executive director of the Greater Barrie Home Builder Association. Municipal taxes and fees, for example, add to the high cost of doing this business. “We’re the most heavily taxed industry after alcohol and tobacco.” Agreeing with the BILD report, she says new-home sales are not a one-time benefit for the province. It’s a sale that continues to produce economic benefits (through property taxes and home maintenance) for the lifetime of the house. “Taxing the full price of new housing would fail to recognize that new housing is an investment good,” says the report. “A new home provides shelter services not only in the year of purchase, but for many years into the future. “Full taxation of new housing also is in conflict with the non-taxation of business purchases of buildings, machinery and equipment, which is touted as a significant benefit of the HST over the existing PST.” “The housing industry (has been recognized) as the economic engine that drives the province,” says Hissa, who has supported BILD’s position by meeting with local MPP Aileen Carroll, and making supporting submissions. “That’s the only way in a practical sense that it could be applied,” comments Orillia chamber president Downey. “Because you couldn’t increase provincial revenue that significantly and not have it affect the economy.” Across sectors, however, the push for HST is sound, says Rob Newman of Newman Accounting Solutions, who provides out-sourced chief-financial-officer services to business. “It would be a good idea to have it come in,” he says.  In addition to reducing the paperwork and labour necessary for compliance at the business level, Newman says it would also decrease bureaucracy at the government level.  “It would also save the Ontario taxpayers because it wouldn’t need the retail sales tax department anymore and it would eliminate one level of audit,” he explains, regardless of which government would administering the HST. Although some prices will go up as a result of a new system, others will come down resulting in what’s projected to be a less-than $100 tax increase overall. The OCC says this out-of-pocket expense would be more than compensated by other savings. Newman also says lower-income families who are currently receiving GST rebates, are also being mentioned in the new proposal, which suggests a similar consideration. Downey, who is a lawyer by trade, says McGuinty needs to be decisive in his handling of the economy. Uncertainty breeds hesitation and that’s not in the best interests of the province right now, he said.


Cooper voices concern over ethanol issues

Deputy Mayor Sandra Cooper appears to be against the idea of pursuing a public nuisance charge against Collingwood Ethanol. In an e-mail to all members of council and members of the media, Cooper said she wasn’t pleased that council wasn’t notified that Mayor Chris Carrier would be sending out a press release on the issue. The town has voted to pursue a public nuisance charge under the Municipal Act against the manufacturer in response to the complaints received from residents in regards to odour and noise. Last week, the mayor sent a press release informing the media and members of council that the town’s court case had been pushed back to June 9. Cooper said council should have seen the release before the public. "I do not recall discussion with council regarding the matter of Collingwood Ethanol from Mayor Carrier," she wrote. "What has triggered the media release? I have asked some members of council but they were unaware of a media release as well. I am sure the MOE (Ministry of the Environment) is working with Collingwood’s manufacturing industry and its future here." Cooper said the MOE should be pursuing the charges, not the town. "It’s their responsibility," she said. "We don’t know what the legal costs of pursuing this are." Cooper said sending out the release, without notifying council, wasn’t the right thing to do. "We talk about openness and transparency. If you buy the newspaper or pick it up in your drive way, I guess that’s open and transparent," she said. Cooper said at a recent conference, she spoke to a representative from another community, who knew about Collingwood’s squabble with the ethanol plant and couldn’t understand it. She said Collingwood needs to ensure they have a diverse economy. "He didn’t understand why the municipality was fighting so strongly," she said. "We can’t forget our manufacturing." Counc. Tim McNabb responded to Cooper’s concern via e-mail. "I’m not sure what your issue is.  Council has asked the Mayor to take the lead on this file and to work with all affected parties.  All I read in the media release was that the court date was pushed back due to the Ministry not being ready.  Since the public are following this I think we have a responsibility to keep them informed," he said.


Help bring Victoria home

Help bring Victoria home. Victoria, known as Tori to friends and family, vanished a week ago after leaving Oliver Stephens Public School in Woodstock where she is a Grade 3 student. She was seen on surveillance video walking with an unidentified woman. Woodstock, a community of about 36,000 people 145 kilometres southwest of Toronto, has since been on edge. If you have any information about Victoria’s whereabouts call Oxford Community Police at 519-421-2800 or e-mail [email protected].


Construction outlook strong in Orillia

City officials and members of the construction industry are predicting an upswing in development amidst growing optimism. At least some of the brightening mood is being driven by a flood of infrastructure funding aimed at giving local economies a lift in uncertain times. “There is no doubt it is going to have an impact,” Mayor Ron Stevens said of the federal stimulus package.  “These are the things that are causing a level of positiveness.” Orillia benefited from a $4 million boost to its library project during the first round of an earlier federal/provincial fund created for communities of less than 100,000. A newly announced fund that promises billions more for infrastructure works will continue to bolster local economies, Stevens said. “It creates jobs, and that creates spending,” he added. In addition to recently approved municipal works – including a $6 million extension of West Ridge Boulevard – the city is enjoying a strong start to the year on the housing front. The value of building permits for the first three months of 2009 sat at $3.3 million, up from $2.8 million over the same period last year. “Which tells me there are dollars out there,” Stevens added. The return of larger-scale developments is coming, but will take time, Angelo Orsi said. Orsi plans to build about 40 homes this year – roughly half the number erected in 2008. However, he remains optimistic for the future. “We have not seen any rebound as of yet, and believe we should see some bump once the auto sector issues get resolved,” he said. Federal and provincial dollars earmarked for municipal infrastructure projects should help spur development, though “it will take awhile to feel the benefits, as it has to work its way through the system. “I believe we should feel a solid rebound by the third quarter of this year,” he said. Industry veteran Jim Storey reports a “slowing trend” at the moment, but is equally hopeful. “I’m looking at 2010 being a very strong year,” he said. “This year might be a little quiet, but there is all the indication in the world that 2010 is gearing up to be a stronger year.” Projects benefiting from the promised infrastructure dollars will take time to bear fruit, said Storey, president of Bradanick Construction Services.   “They are talking about putting in these different plans to help the economy and create employment, but most of that work will be 2010 before that gets off the ground,” he added. Storey, who focuses mainly on commercial construction, noted that several large-scale projects are already on the horizon for Orillia. “We have a university starting, we have some major road construction happening, there’s (the reconstruction) of Westmount Drive,” he said. “I don’t see the future as bleak, I see it as prosperous,” he added. “It is just going to take some time to get there.” Wes Brennan, a builder of high-end custom homes, has no shortage of work to keep his crew of 15 busy. “We are all booked up for the year,” said Brennan. “We have got all kinds of work. We are always busy.” Brennan, who has several houses on the go, said the current economic climate hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of his moneyed clients. “The recession has not bothered them so much,” he said. Reliable companies that offer a quality product “will have the work,” he added. Brennan said a slowdown in the early 1990s amounted to no more than “a couple of days” without work. “I’m sure I have enough work to keep me busy for the rest of the year,” he added.


Making a case for Wasaga Beach High

Mayor Cal Patterson presented a business plan making the case that a high school should be built in Wasaga Beach at a public meeting in Stayner last week. The final business plan was made public at the final meeting of the accommodation review committee (ARC) on Mon., March 23. The meeting, attended by more than 200 people, was held to hear public comment before the ARC submitted its final recommendations to Simcoe County District School Board trustees. The ARC was convened by the board one year ago to find solutions relating to declining enrolment in this area, which included a review of high schools in Elmvale, Stayner, Collingwood, Penetanguishene and Midland.   The ARC finalized three recommendations at a meeting following the March 23 public meeting. The recommendation that received the most support is a five-school scenario defined as status quo with upgrades. The committee recommends that all five existing high schools remain open and be renovated appropriately. A second recommendation for a four-school scenario would see Elmvale District High School remain in operation, one high school remain in Midland and Penetanguishene with two schools to serve the catchment areas of Collingwood Collegiate Institute and Stayner Collegiate Institute. The scenario could include the construction of a high school in Wasaga Beach. A third recommendation for a six-school scenario would see all five existing high schools remain in operation and a school built in Wasaga Beach. Patterson presented the business plan during a scheduled delegation at the public meeting. He would later say that although he was making a delegation to the ARC, he liked to think he was making the presentation to the board of education, made up of school trustees, several of whom were in the room. The business plan was completed by Hemson Consulting at a cost of $10,000 and was the subject of a special committee of the whole of council meeting on Thurs., March 19, where it received approval. The 18-page plan was commissioned by the municipality after councillors and staff said they were told by provincial ministers of education and several parliamentary assistants over the years that "decisions with respect to funding of new pupil places would be based on the preparation of a business case taking all factors into consideration", said Patterson in his introduction. Hemson mirrored the work of the ARC, taking into account the condition of the five high schools included in the review, projected population growth in the relevant communities and busing costs. Hemson recommends constructing a secondary school in Wasaga Beach to address "the over-utilization of secondary schools within the West Simcoe area," meaning Stayner Collegiate Institute, which is operating at 140 per cent capacity, and Elmvale District High School, which is operating at 169 per cent. The two schools have added portables to expand student capacity. Hemson found 548 public high school students live in Wasaga Beach – 449 attend Collingwood Collegiate Institute, 87 attend Elmvale District High School and 12 attend Stayner Collegiate Institute. Another 200 Wasaga Beach high school students attend Catholic high schools.   "Wasaga Beach students currently attending a Catholic secondary school may opt to attend the new public secondary school within their community," states Hemson. According to Hemson the Education Development Charges Background Study recommends a new high school be constructed within Wasaga Beach. The study identifies 900 students as a sufficient number to support a new facility. The ministry requires there are enough students to fill 80 per cent of those seats each year starting in the second year. Hemson claims by building a high school in Wasaga Beach and absorbing the overflow from other schools, taking into account projected growth at Stayner Collegiate, the numbers would average out and all four schools would be at about 85 per cent capacity. The board considers a school to be prohibitive to repair when its improvement costs equals 65 per cent or more of its total value. Elmvale DHS is currently facing $1,548,800 in repairs, escalating to $5,803,034 in 2018. It will be deemed prohibitive to repair in 2015. SCI is currently facing $2,261,847 in repairs, escalating to $6,955,154 in 2018. It will be deemed prohibitive to repair in 2014. Hemson said if one of the two facilities is closed the capacity at the remaining school and the new school in Wasaga Beach would be 100 per cent. According to the business plan, Wasaga Beach secondary school, with capacity for 900 students, would cost $21.1 million to build and $3.8 million for land acquisition and servicing. Hemson recommends the school board apply for funding through a provincial grant program made available to municipalities slated for a lot of growth and to a program made available to school boards that close schools because they reach their prohibitive to repair dates.


Cathy Jones headlines comedy festival

Veteran comic Cathy Jones will headline Orillia’s third-annual comedy festival (April 15 to 18) with a Saturday-evening show at the city’s venerable opera house. A founding member of the mock news program, “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” Jones spoke with Orillia Today in advance of her appearance, ruminating on character-driven comedy and the joy of finding humour in hardship. Jones, who turned 54 on Monday, began the phone interview from inside a Halifax, Nova Scotia car wash, where her Mini was enjoying a foam bath. Orillia Today: TV viewers know you for your role in This Hour Has 22 Minutes, where you work as part of an ensemble cast. What can you tell us about your upcoming performance at the opera house? Jones: “A lot of times, when I do a solo performance, I just talk and tell jokes, but I think I’m going to do a couple of character pieces, because the show is longer than usual. (At this point, the conversation turns to the car wash. “The dryer is so short – there’s only 20 seconds left,” Jones tells a reporter. “I’m going to back up and go through again.” She does just that, before returning to the subject of her solo performance.) “People do like to see a sprinkling of video, and I do have some fun things that I want to share. I’m hoping to bring a young actor that I have a lot of respect for, (who) plays scenes with me really well.” Orillia Today: Is there a sense of freedom with a solo act that you don’t have as part of a larger cast? Is there an intimidation factor there, arriving on the stage alone? Jones: “To me, if the show goes well, if I’m connecting with my audience, I am very happy to be there. Especially if I feel comfortable enough to explore things as I go, topics that I’m fascinated by. I have a history in my family of their being good at being MCs. My father had a very dry sense of humour, and a lot of times people didn’t know he was joking. If you didn’t have a good sense of humour, you might miss it. It is in my family, the show business thing.”’ Orillia Today: You’ve been described as a comic chameleon, able to slip into any number of characters with the help of a few props. Babe Bennett comes to mind. Can you give us some insight into the creative process required to develop these characters? Jones: “The truth is, I get inspired by stuff, but it’s been awhile. I’m kind of lazy. When I hear somebody speaking, I want to capture their accent. When I hear somebody talking, the voice comes back to me. Sometimes when I’m meditating I’ll be talking out loud and a character will come to me.” Orillia Today: Is it true that your female characters were modeled after your mother? Jones: “I think there was that broken hearted tenderness, even though I have my father’s aggression where I suddenly snap. I think my mom, she was incredibly generous – Newfoundlanders are incredibly generous – she was funny. She played the piano. She had a really deep voice.” Orillia Today: Much has been written about the East Coast having its own distinct brand of humour. Is that true, and if so, what sets it apart from other comedy? Jones: “It is harder to be funny when you are on top, because it is not as easy to fool around. When you are on the East Coast, you are almost the class clown of the country. We are like people who really know how to survive on a (expletive deleted) rock. Being the underdog and (yet) not being crushed is a great place for humour to come from.” Orillia Today: How do you choose your targets – I mean subjects – when you’re preparing for an episode of This Hour Has 22 Minutes? Jones: “What’s politically in the news, what are the hot topics. We have meetings Monday morning and there is a huge idea list generated and then people write and write. We basically have two days to write the show.” Orillia Today: Any favourite subjects come to mind? Jones: “I like stuff that’s smart. I like funny, funny stuff. I’m not a news junkie type of person. I’m more about people’s behaviour, how we treat each other, the changes in culture, like what we have done to life on Earth. What it is like to be my age, to be who I am. I am not a male standup comedian, I am character-driven.” Orillia Today: Carol Burnett was renowned for her characters. Jones: “She was very physical. It wasn’t about the snappy patter. It was the physical appearance. She was killer. Orillia Today: Within film and television, it’s often said comedy is perhaps the most difficult form to write well. What sets apart good humour writing from the mediocre stuff that seems in such ample supply these days? Jones: “Real comedy comes out of real situations. If you do something very unlikely, you get further away from good comedy. Something being true and genuine is way funnier than somebody trying to be funny. My favourite comedy comes out of real life situations. Real emotions can be very, very funny.” – Cathy Jones performs at the Orillia Opera House April 18 at 8 p.m., with tickets priced at $40, or $30 for seniors and students. For more information, call 326-8011.