Council opts for scaled back Mel Mitchell project

New Tecumseth council passed the 2009 budget at 1.49 per cent Monday night and it includes a basic field house for the Mel Mitchell field in Beeton. With the budget passed, it means people with an average home, assessed at $255,159, will see an increase of $27.66 on the municipal portion of their taxes this year. Throughout this year’s budget talks there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the Mel Mitchell field house. When council agreed to sign onto the project last year it had a $100,000 price tag; half coming from the town and half from fundraising and in-kind donations. Subsequent meetings saw the cost for the field house escalate. At a January budget meeting, the project cost was $200,000. When the designs were brought forward in February, a new cost estimate of $331,250 was attached for the two-phase project. Coun. Barbara Huson doesn’t support funding for the field house above what council originally agreed to. She has talked to Modular Homes in Innisfil, which rents and sells trailers, and suggested a unit from there would be a cheaper and more viable option for the Mel Mitchell Field facilities. She said it would eliminate the cost to raise the site above the flood plain. Beeton Coun. Richard Norcross said he’s frustrated with setbacks in getting the field house built. "If people aren’t happy with the design, fine we can change that," he said. "It’s hurdle after hurdle after hurdle." From the get-go Norcross had been pushing a full scale field house that included a change rooms, washrooms, a meeting room, storage space, concession and concrete overhang so that people could watch the action on all fields underneath it. When field house plans were tabled this week, however, Norcross was asking for a building with storage space, washrooms and change rooms, which requires an additional $50,000 from the town. The town already has $50,000 in a reserve account for the field house, but council approved an additional $50,000 coming from the Parkland Reserve Fund for the project. The building will be 1,320 square feet, with estimated construction costs being $111 per square foot. The total cost for the project is $177,500, with construction starting this year. Other last-minute additions to the budget are $195,140 to repair the abandoned CN Rail bridge on the 13th Line, with the money coming from reserves, and $66,000 for Dayfoot Street in Beeton, which will be paid for with a debenture. The majority, 1.06 per cent, of the increase comes from the OPP contract, which council agreed to last year. It includes hiring three new officers this year. To save money, full-time town staff also opted not to accept their cost of living increase this year. A transfer for $831,077 has also been made from the tax rate stabilization fund to reduce the impact on taxpayers this year. Town staff assured council that the town’s debt capacity is stable. "We’re still within our prescribed ministry limit," said manager of finance Mark Sirr.


Beach woman missing for two weeks

Penny Warne has been now been missing for two weeks. Police have been looking for the 57-year-old woman since she was reported missing by her friend on Sun., Feb. 15. OPP spokesperson Const. Peter Leon said the police have searched by air, land and sea and are using every resource at their disposal in the search for Warne. In the last week-and-a-half, the OPP have used a helicopter to search the shoreline and divers to search waterways but Leon said there is no sign of Warne.   Warne was last seen leaving work at Wal-Mart in the beach when her shift ended at 10 p.m. on Feb. 11. When Warne missed her shift on Feb. 13, Sally McCarthy, a co-worker and friend, became worried. She went to Warne’s Mosley Street apartment on Feb. 15 to see if she could find her. She found the back door unlocked and her dog was tied up outside, possibly for quite a while. McCarthy said that is when she notified the police. The police then notified Warne’s son and daughter. Amy Warne said she first learned her mother was missing at 11 p.m. Sunday. She drove to Wasaga Beach from Windsor, where she lives, with her fiancé on Monday morning. Upon searching the apartment, Amy said the only thing that was missing was her mother’s winter boots. Her car was in the driveway, her purse, cell phone and winter coats were all inside the apartment. Amy said she fears the worst but hopes she is wrong. "I am hoping that she bought a winter jacket and she is wearing it," said Amy. As police continue their investigation, Warne’s family have been in Wasaga Beach putting up posters and seeking information as to the whereabouts of the missing woman. Leon said last week police have no specific reason to believe Warne is in the water but it is important to exhaust every possibility.   "My mom is very cautious and particular about being around the water," said Amy. Amy said Warne is very well known in Wasaga Beach. Originally from Michigan, she has lived in Wasaga Beach for more than 20 years. She said her mother is very outgoing socially but is really a homebody at heart. She worked for many years in the cleaning industry – at one point running her own business – and has met many people through her business and working at other jobs. Warne is twice divorced but Amy said she had been doing some Internet dating and had been in conversation with a few men. Amy said her mother had a date with a man scheduled for Thursday. "We love her and hope for her safe return," said Amy. She said she and her mother had recently been dress shopping for Amy’s upcoming wedding and her mother was really looking forward to that. Amy and her fiancé said they are grateful to Wal-Mart for putting them up in a motel while they are in town. The managers there have also provided them with money and gift cards for food and supplies. Amy’s brother and father are also taking part in the search. "If anybody has any information about where she is or what she was doing after last Wednesday, call the police immediately, please," urged McCarthy. Warne is described as white, five feet and five inches tall with a medium build, blonde, wavy hair, a fair complexion and wearing glasses. Leon said the investigation will continue until the police have exhausted every possibility but the reality is that at some point police resources will have to be redistributed elsewhere. He said that will be up to the investigators. Anyone with information is asked to contact Huronia West OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or 429-3575.  


Town refuses to reconsider Shelter Now decision

Midland council has decided against waiving development charges for Shelter Now, a 12-unit transitional housing project. Shelter Now officials had approached council in 2008 requesting fees for the project be waived. The town also received a letter late last year from the County of Simcoe indicating it would provide funding to offset county development charges to assist with the development, contingent on the town providing a similar contribution. When council decided earlier this year not to waive its portion of the fee, a Shelter Now benefactor advised he might reduce a separate financial pledge to the Midland Public Library by the amount of development charges levied against Shelter Now. Last week, Midland Mayor Jim Downer asked for direction on whether to bring a motion forward to the next regular council meeting to reconsider the original request. While some councillors appeared open to the idea, others said they couldn’t support such a motion. “I can’t see the taxpayers picking up the tab for it,” said Coun. Jack Charlebois. Coun. Zena Pendlebury agreed, saying the town simply does not have the funds. “We don’t have money to put into our own programs,” she said. “I would have difficulty supporting this – despite recognizing the importance of it – but it sends a message out there that, if you miscalculate, you can just come to us and we will fix it.” Development charges are merely part of the cost of doing business, added Coun. Judy Contin. “You just don’t find money in a budget if it’s not set aside for that reason,” she said. “I think Shelter Now will be quite successful, and I don’t think it’s fair for the people of Midland to pay out of their tax dollars for the development charges.” Coun. Gord McKay said if council feels social housing is important to the community, it should reconsider its earlier decision. “These people live on our streets,” he said. “Even though we don’t have an official responsibility … they’re still our brothers and sisters.” The request to bring a motion forward to the April 27 meeting was defeated. [email protected]


Fate of PSS still up in the air

Parents, teachers, students and concerned community members filled the gym at Penetanguishene Secondary School (PSS) on March 11 to discuss the future of the school. The Simcoe County District School Board hosted the public meeting to offer an update on the activities of the accommodation review committee (ARC), struck by the board to review area high schools. High schools in Midland, Penetanguishene, Elmvale, Stayner, and Collingwood are part of an area review that also includes Wasaga Beach as a possible school site. School superintendent Janice Medysky told The Mirror the ARC’s purpose is to come up with a recommendation to present to trustees about secondary school capacity issues in this area. The recommendation could follow one of three different scenarios, she noted. “At this time, the ARC is considering three different scenarios: a four-school scenario, a five-school and a six-school, but we haven’t named any of the schools yet or located them,” she said. The public was given the opportunity last week to make delegations to the committee, as well as make comments and ask questions of board members. PSS teacher Janice Evans verbalized what many in attendance may have been thinking. “Small schools work,” she proclaimed to cheers and applause. “It’s a community school, and to lose it would be unimaginable to me. It’s a great place to live, work and educate our kids.” Laurie Buttineau lives in Penetanguishene and has two children – one graduating from PSS this year, and another who will start at the school in two years. She said she attended the meeting to hear reasons for closing PSS and for keeping it open, but said she left believing the school should stay open. “We’re a small town and we have lots to offer the direct community of Penetanguishene, as well as surrounding areas,” she said. “We have students who’ve graduated and who have returned to live and work in this area. It’s proven to be a great school.” The Town of Penetanguishene, represented by Mayor Anita Dubeau and CAO Eleanor Rath, also spoke at the meeting, as did PSS student Jade Huguenin and Norman Mason, supervisory officer for the Protestant Separate School Board of Penetanguishene – which is responsible for Burkevale school. They outlined many reasons for keeping the school open, including it’s tri-cultural heritage, bilingual character, unique curriculum, the town’s projected population growth and its proximity to many area feeder schools. The March 11 meeting was the fifth public meeting the ARC has held to date, said Medysky, who noted they have had very similar reactions at all the schools they’ve attended. “The communities are very supportive of their schools, which is really heartwarming,” she said. Another meeting, a working session, took place in Elmvale on March 12. The ARC is expected to make a recommendation to the facility standing committee on April 14. Protestant board pitches alternative The Protestant Separate School Board of Penetanguishene says it will do everything it can to preserve the town’s sole English-language secondary school. Supervisory officer Norman Mason told The Mirror the board has a mandate to educate and, although it has only provided elementary education, that could change. He said the board would be open to a partnership if that becomes the only way to keep PSS open. This could mean closing Burkevale’s current school and sharing the high school facility. If the public board decided to put PSS up for sale, Mason said, the Protestant board could buy the facility and run secondary and elementary schools out of it. “Keeping (PSS) open is important to the board because of the fact they feel that their graduates from Burkevale come to this school and it has been an excellent facility,” he said. “(The board) feels it should be contributing in the positive in helping to keep the school open for a better education system and a better community.” [email protected]


Second racer sentenced in trucker’s death

A speeder who pleaded guilty to his part in the death of Innisfil truck driver David Virgoe will be in jail for just under two years. Twenty-one months behind bars was the sentence Justice Michelle Fuerst gave to Prabhjit Multani, now 21in Barrie court Thursday. It also includes a 10-year driving ban. “It’s a start,” said Virgoe’s widow Debbie, who now lives in Angus. “I’m satisfied that this will make people think about what’s going on on the roadways. I’m glad he’s not getting out, and I’m glad she gave him a 10-year driving ban.” Virgoe died in a Highway 400 crash June 18, 2007 after his truck was clipped by a Grand Am racing up the highway. In total, three cars were speeding up from Toronto on their way to Wasaga Beach. Multani was born in India, and moved to Canada in 2000. He was 19 at the time and had just bought his Ford Mustang a few months before the crash for $9,000. The judge noted it was properly insured, unlike his friend Naumann Nusrat’s Grand Am. Nusrat was given two years of house arrest last year after pleading guilty to the speed racing charge – criminal negligence causing death. Late last year, the Ontario Court of Appeal decided that the charge should include approximately 30 months in jail, but didn’t force Nusrat back behind bars. Before giving her sentence, Fuerst went through the details of the crime. A Grand Am, Mustang and Honda were seen speeding up Highway 400 by several witnesses, who were also cut off by the cars as they darted through traffic. “Multani’s passengers told him several times to slow down,” said Fuest. Shortly before the crash, the three cars pulled over to the shoulder, as the drivers had a conversation. The Mustang was the first to pass Virgoe’s truck that morning, and Nusrat was next in his Grand Am, which hit the shoulder while passing and started to fishtail, eventually clipping Virgoe’s truck, she continued. “Multani didn’t intend to cause Virgoe’s death, but was egregiously driving for several kilometres on the highway, causing deliberate endangerment of those on the road,” the judge said. Even though his car wasn’t the one that hit Virgoe’s truck, Multani is equally to blame for the situation, she said. When making her sentence, Fuerst had several circumstances to consider. He was initially jailed for 12 days, then released on reasonable bail conditions, which included no driving, she said. He was allowed to attend Humber College as a business student. But on April 28, 2008, he was re-arrested. Multani had gone with his mom when she drove his sister to school. After she went inside, he hopped into the driver’s seat and drove the van up a street. He made a U-turn in front of an unmarked police car and parked on the other side of the street. He has been in jail since for getting behind the wheel. Fuerst said he doesn’t get double credit for those 291 days behind bars. She did give him two-for-one time for the 12 days of his original imprisonment, and for 67 days when he was in lockdown at the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene. Taking that 13 months and subtracting it from the 30-month minimum left her with a sentence of 17 months in jail for the main crime. However, the facts that he drove while prohibited and didn’t check in with his probation officer as ordered earned him another four months in jail. Following that, Multani has a two-year probation, 10-year driving ban and can’t associate with the other two men charged in the crime while on probation. Brian J. Patterson, president of the Ontario Safety League, was pleased with the sentence. “From a public safety perspective, it sends a message to the public. It didn’t leave any confusion (about the matter of speed racing),” he said. “The other thing she got right was she wasn’t prepared to look at the breach of conditions as a minor offence, she added the time on. She pointed out that he got reasonable conditions of bail, and he broke the law.” The third man charged in the death of David Virgoe is Ravi Badhwar. He is waiting for a June trial date.


Commercial space expensive in Bradford West Gwillimbury

The cost of leasing retail and office space in Bradford West Gwillimbury is a growing concern for both council and the town’s manager of economic development, Michael Disano. However, Mr. Disano said there’s not much the municipality can do about it. “We can’t force the hand of the business owners,” he said. “We can only hope that with time, their prices will come back down.” The concern came up during a discussion at a council meeting regarding the town’s economic state. The average price for leasing industrial, commercial or retail space in town in 2008 was $15 per square foot. That said, the total square footage leased in 2008 went up by 10,000 square feet over 2007. However, that increase is believed be quite low, considering the number of people who were in search of space but couldn’t find any at a good price, according to some members of council. “I have heard from many people who have come to me and said that they were looking to open up in Bradford but the actual square footage costs were too high,” Ward 4 Councillor Mark Contois said. “We want businesses to relocate, but the price that the landowners are asking is too high.” According to a report Mr. Disano compiled with the help of outside sources such as Tina Sibbald of Royal LePage Timeless Realty, those prices could soon change without the aid of municipal politicians. “As development continues to expand west, property owners will have to take a more realistic view with respect to lease rates in order to avoid high vacancy rates in the downtown and east end,” Ms Sibbald said in Mr. Disano’s report. “This applies particularly to buildings which are older and in need of significant structural, system and facade upgrades.” Making matters worse, according to Mr. Contois, is the number of property owners who don’t live in the town. “I would love to know the percentage of people who own the buildings that actually live in town,” Mr. Contois said. “These other absentee landlords don’t seem to care what happens to the property.” However, the involvement of landlords in their property is something the town can’t get involved with, Mr. Disano said. “There is not a whole lot the town can do unless they want to start to buy or expropriate these properties,” he said.


Board to sell daycare site

As one soon-to-be displaced daycare struggles to pin down funds for a new building, another is set to lose its long-time home. The public school board on Wednesday voted to surplus and sell off a historic Coldwater Street building that has been home to Orillia Central Preschool since 1985. Housed within an imposing heritage building, the operation serves 75 children daily and more than 100 families. More than 100 others are on a waiting list. “Frankly, it is a crisis,” program supervisor Shannon Daggett said in advance of the vote. Board chair Diane Firman said the building was “no longer required and needed by the board for educational purposes.” An alternative-learning program operated by the school board on the building’s upper floor would be relocated, she added. Various educational institutions and government organizations will be given an opportunity to make a bid the building over a 90-day period, as would the municipality. After that, it would be offered to the general public, Firman said. The preschool would have 90 days to relocate after the building’s sale, which could take two or more years depending on the level of interest, she added. “We are not looking to turf them out at all,” she said. “That is not the intention. We care about kids.” Daggett was urging board officials to help “us keep our home. “That said, we are now in the process of looking for another space that we could move to very quickly if we are forced to leave …,” she added. Constructing a new building is not an option, she said. “Heaven forbid if we have to build from the ground up,” she added. “We are a non-profit organization, so it is not like we have a bankroll. It is not financially feasible to carry a mortgage. It would be crippling to us.” Firman said a new school at the Lions Oval would house a daycare, adding that Orillia Central Preschool could bid on the tender to operate it. Two other schools already house daycares, she said. Firman supported the recommendation by a facilities committee to sell the property. “I believe it is in the best interest of the board to relocate our (alternative learning) students elsewhere,” she said. Concern over the potential sell off comes just as officials at Treasure Island Daycare Centre struggle to secure funds for a new facility. Officials in January garnered a provincial commitment to assist with the cost of relocating the non-profit program, months after learning the operation was being pushed out of OPP General Headquarters. Nine weeks later, the province has yet to confirm the board’s business plan, chair Scott Beaumont said in a mass e-mail. Unless approval is given by March 31, developer Angelo Orsi cannot construct the new building in time for a September opening, Beaumont said. “Families with children currently enrolled are losing confidence in the centre’s viability and have placed their names on other centres’ waitlists ‘just in case,’” he added. “However, due to the shortage of child care spaces in the Orillia area, they are unlikely to be able to make alternate arrangements.” Added Daggett: “You are looking at 240 families if both of us were to close.” The impending closure of Orillia Central Preschool concerns Mayor Ron Stevens, who called it “rather unnerving.” However, Stevens said his hands were tied, as the matter was a provincial one. “We can do very little,” he said. “It is a lease arrangement between the school board and the preschool.” Stevens would not comment on Treasure Island as three of his grandchildren attend the Memorial Avenue daycare. Daggett noted that close to half of the spaces at Orillia Central Preschool are subsidized. The preschool serves children ranging in age from four weeks to five-and-a-half years, and receives some provincial funding for wage subsidies.


Coldwater trail plan has its fans

Turning a former rail bed into a trail for walkers, cyclists and others would prove a financial boon to the Coldwater area while promoting healthy living, proponents of the plan say. “We want to have people visit the community,” said Marvin Wright, owner of an antiques shop in nearby Fesserton. A six-kilometre stretch between Coldwater and Waubaushene is one of a few unfinished sections of the Trans-Canada Trail. “It has been a gap for quite some time,” said Frieda Baldwin, a member of Huronia Trails and Greenways. Local trail advocates are hoping Severn Township can tap into a $25-million federal fund earmarked for improvements and expansions to the country’s trail system. Funding will go to projects that are set to break ground in 2009-10, said Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton. “Certainly, the projects that are ready to go now are going to be favoured,” Stanton told an audience in Coldwater. While supportive of the call for the trail’s development, Mayor Phil Sled said the local project is far from shovel-ready. He said his municipality is working to ensure the former CN rail line does not pose environmental hazards before agreeing to assume ownership of the line, which extends to Orillia. The rail bed, currently under the control of the Trans-Canada Trail System, was once bordered by railway stations, Sled added. “We want it, but we want our concerns resolved,” he said. Provincial and municipal governments will contribute funds to individual projects in partnership with the National Trails Coalition. “Canada’s trails network helps us get to the heart of our amazing outdoors,” Stanton said. “It enriches the health and enjoyment of countless Canadians.” Coldwater resident Jane Dunlop said other trails in the area regularly draw scores of visitors. “It used to be that people would look for a golf course; now they look for trails,” she noted. “Everybody is on them.” Sled said the township is scheduled to meet with representatives of the Trans-Canada Trail System later this month. [email protected]


Seatbelt campaign Saturday

Ontario’s Transportation Ministry is teaming up with the Orillia and District Road Safety Committee for a Saturday event aimed at increasing seat belt use. Georgian College students stationed at four intersections over a two-hour period will count the number of drivers and passengers wearing seatbelts. Banners will encourage motorists to “Buckle Up,” while organizers have set a campaign goal that would see at least 95 per cent of motorists belted in. Police say a seatbelt is the most effective form of protection in a collision, with five lives saved annually in Ontario for every one per cent increase in seatbelt use. Students will be stationed at the intersections of Coldwater Road and Westmount Drive, Fittons Road and West Street, Mississaga and Front streets, and Colborne and Andrew streets.