Deficits, apathy threat to Legion

Orillia’s long-running Royal Canadian Legion branch has much in common with veterans’ clubs across the country – an uncertain future in the face of dwindling finances and attendance. The executive is determined to turn the situation around with fresh thinking and a call for greater membership involvement. “There comes a point where you have to say it is time to deal with this,” first vice-president Colin Wackett said. “We cannot afford to carry on this way. Otherwise the roof literally comes crashing down.” The local branch has reported deficits for the past five years, closing out 2008 with a $30,000 shortfall. Declining attendance, a fall in bar sales and rising operating costs are contributing factors. “This is not isolated to Orillia, believe me,” said Wackett. “It is everywhere.” Members are concerned. A recent meeting to discuss the Legion’s future drew record attendance, with more than 250 people turning out for the brainstorming session. Many said programs catering to younger adults were crucial to ensuring the organization’s success, as the number of veterans declines each year. A monthly jam session was suggested as a potential draw, as was the introduction of mid-day programs for those less inclined to visit at night. According to Wackett, this is just the kind of thinking that is crucial to the branch’s success. “The younger generation doesn’t have the same history with the Legion as (elderly veterans) do,” he added. “How do we bring those people in? We do so much in the community that we don’t want to let go. We have got to change the methods of the past.” Orillia’s branch boasts a membership of more than 1,700, but too few regularly visit the building or become involved on a volunteer basis, he said. “If everyone who came to that meeting came into the Legion once a week, we wouldn’t be having that meeting,” Wackett added. “If ever there was a time to step forward, it’s now.” Adding to the Legion’s money problems is the rising cost of maintaining and operating its aging waterfront building. The heating bill rose to $4,200 this winter, up from  $2,200 the previous year. “Sure it was a cold winter, but doubling your heating costs is pretty startling,” he said. “It means you have to raise the extra money to cover it.” The Legion relies largely on fundraising events, as well as fees from the rental of its upstairs hall to operate. While acknowledging the branch’s lakeside building could net a hefty sum – were it sold and the Legion relocated to a smaller facility – Wackett said the idea has been roundly rejected.  “There is a sense of pride and ownership in that spot,” he added of the building, which was bought and paid for by the membership. Wackett was under the impression that the Legion’s Dominion Command would retain some of the proceeds from the building’s sale. As Orillia Today learned, that isn’t accurate. Individual branches reap all proceeds from the sale of their properties so long as they retain their charter, said Bob Butt, spokesperson for the Legion’s Dominion Command. A sale is subject to the approval of provincial command, he added. “They could sell their building, build the new building and they keep that extra (money),” he said in a phone interview, adding that, “If they are not dissolving, they are not losing anything.” Even so, a sale of the historic building appears to hold little appeal for the membership, regardless of their financial woes. “They have a very close attachment to that building, it is a legacy,” said Wackett. “(A proposed sale) would be rejected out of hand. “That is our pride and joy,” he added. “It has the best views of the waterfront in the city.” Whether it makes financial sense to hang on to the building out of nostalgia remains to be seen, given the hurdles facing the club. According to Butt, Orillia is not alone as it works to overcome its challenges. Legions across Canada are struggling with the realities of an aging membership, weak bar sales and falling attendance.  “But we’ve still got 1,540 branches,” Butt added. “Some branches have amalgamated and some branches have closed.” The Orillia Legion’s executive will examine recommendations offered at the recent gathering, and put them to the membership during a general meeting. Along with the recommendations was a commitment from “a lot of people” to volunteer when needed, Wackett said. “Even though a lot of members are aging, it is not physical volunteering we need, it is organizational,” he said. Despite its financial woes, Wackett said the Legion would continue to support local youth programs, including baseball, air cadets and track and field. “We are determined they are going to continue,” he added. Asked whether the Legion would consider partnering with other branches in the region, Wackett said such discussions are traditionally directed by provincial or district command. “If we were approached, we would certainly listen,” he added. “We certainly would not reject any request that way.” Local members intend to meet with other branches to discuss what measures they are taking to address the challenges facing Legions. “It is time for the members to step forward and say, ‘I am willing to help,’” Wackett added of the Orillia situation. “The solution is there. It is a matter of people.” And money.


Man arrested at Meaford Hospital

A Meaford man faces several charges after a tirade at an area hospital on Saturday afternoon. The incident occurred at about 2 p.m. after a man, who had fallen off his bicycle, was transported by ambulance to the Grey Bruce Health Services-Meaford. While being assessed and treated he became agitated and aggressive. Threats were directed at one of the nursing staff and he was asked to leave the facility. He went into a room in the emergency department and came out with a metal chain belt in hand.  The belt was swung around in a threatening manner toward staff and slammed into the counter at nurse’s station. The man refused to leave and continued to shout obscenities before Grey County OPP officers attended. During his arrest he was non-compliant and combative and a struggle with police ensued before he was brought under control.  Karl Wegner,52, of Meaford was charged with the Criminal Code offences of Utter Threats, Possession of a Weapon Dangerous, Assault with a Weapon, Two Counts of Cause Disturbance and Resisting Arrest. He is in custody and scheduled to appear for a bail hearing in the Ontario Court of Justice-Owen Sound.


Tornados win OMHA Spirit of Hockey contest

TNT Tornados Minor Hockey Association has won the grand prize for the Spirit of Hockey contest. TNT entered the contest earlier this year to help celebrate the Ontario Minor Hockey Association’s (OMHA) 75th anniversary. As the winning association, TNT fundraising director Sandra Castelijn said the group wins a $7,500 credit for OMHA programming, and barbecue for up to 5,000 people, up to 500 passes for players to the Hockey Hall of Fame and a visit from an NHL alumni. The club also gets a Hometown Hockey Spirit Contest banner, a commemorative print from Frameworth and TNT will be recognized at the OMHA annual general meeting. She said the approximate retail value of the contest is $10,000. For TNT’s entry it held a skate-a-thon fundraiser in January. At the event players sang happy birthday to the OMHA on the ice and served anniversary cake. Players also wrote 500 word essays about their hometown hockey spirit, passion for hockey, and example of how TNT has demonstrated sportsmanship or how the association celebrated the OMHA’s anniversary. Castelijn said she has just received word that TNT won the grand prize. More information will be available soon.


Gas Tax funds doubling

Larry Miller, MP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, is glad to announce that the Federal Government is doubling the portion of gas tax funding that goes to municipalities. "Municipalities will see their share of the Federal Gas Tax double," said Miller, "These funds can be used to improve local roads, bridges, and wastewater systems," the MP said last week. On April 1st, 2009, the federal Gas Tax Transfer to the provinces and territories to support better municipal infrastructure doubled to $2 billion annually. The Gas Tax Fund (GTF) will remain at that level beyond 2014, when the Government makes it a permanent measure, providing Ontario municipalities with stable and predictable funding for their long-term infrastructure priorities.  Accelerating the first payment of the Gas Tax Fund by almost three months, the federal government is making up to $1 billion available to municipalities almost three months early. "This will stimulate our local economy and allow our towns and municipalities to repair our infrastructure," commented Miller, "Our government is putting the funding and decision making power back where it belongs; at the local level," concluded Miller. The Gas Tax Fund is part of an ongoing commitment from the Government of Canada to create jobs and stimulate the economy through modern public infrastructure. It is also an example of all levels of government working together to improve infrastructure and the quality of life of Canadians. Meaford Mayor Francis Richardson said his municipality was aware that the new money was coming forward. He said his municipality already has plans in place to use the extra Gas Tax money to "leverage" more infrastructure funds from other provincial and federal programs using the Gas Tax funds as the municipality’s one-third share. "It is part of the money ($1 million) that (Financial Consultant David Kennedy said we have available to leverage more from the province and feds. That is one of the reasons that amount is so significant," said Mayor Richardson. "The better news is that it is guaranteed until 2014 at that level," he added. The GTF makes capital investments in water, wastewater and solid waste infrastructure, public transit, community energy systems, and local roads and bridges. The Fund combines predictable, long-term funding with local decision making and planning to enable municipalities to build and rehabilitate their core public infrastructure. Gas Tax funding is provided nationwide and the money is allocated based on population. There is a separate agreement between Canada and the City of Toronto for the City’s Gas Tax Fund allocation. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the City of Toronto, partner with the federal government to deliver the funds to Ontario municipalities and the City of Toronto on behalf of the federal government.  The first payment will be made in April, in the past, payments have been made in July and then November. The Gas Tax Fund is providing Ontarians with stable funding that will have a tangible impact on their quality of life and the long-term sustainability of their communities.   The GTF has already provided funding towards various projects that support community energy systems, water and wastewater treatment and local roads and bridges. Funds coming to Grey County will increase as follows: Chatsworth from $102,028 to $204,057 Georgian Bluffs from $164,935 to $329,870 Grey County from $1,447,131 to $2,894,261 Grey Highlands from $149,403 to $298,807 Hanover from $111,598 to $223,195 Meaford from $168,656 to $337,311 Owen Sound from $348,180 to $696,360 Southgate from $112,215 to $224,430 West Grey from $190,751 to $381,502 The Blue Mountains from $99,364 to $198,728


Injured soldier returns home to warm welcome

Wayne Burkholder stood curbside early Thursday afternoon, a small Canadian flag gripped in one hand and both eyes fixed on the procession of vehicles that inched past groups of like-minded well wishers. An OPP cruiser led the slow-moving convoy through Orillia’s downtown, followed closely by fire trucks and an ambulance. In the rear of the ambulance, on a bed, was Warrant Officer Tim Aleman – man of the hour. The 43-year-old Joyland Beach resident was returning to his community two weeks after being injured in a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know him,” remarked Burkholder. “We should stand behind our Canadian Forces.” Yellow ribbons donated by a local flower shop adorned lampposts and store fronts, a symbol of support for Aleman, a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. “We have handed out over 700 (ribbons) already,” shop owner June Morgan told a reporter the previous day. “It is really nice to see the community rally behind this family and all servicemen in Orillia.” Standing next to Burkholder was Rama resident John St. Germain, who wore a camouflage-print ball cap dressed with tiny metal pins, including two bearing red poppies with the words “We remember.” “They are heroes,” St. Germain said moments before the procession arrived at the foot of Mississaga Street. “I have lost family members in (wars).” St. Germain then spoke of his own son, who at 22 is preparing to join the military. “It is his life,” he added. “I can’t change it. But I told him, you belong to them once you join.” Friends Patti Ivey and Carrie Vardy dressed in red and brought three Canadian flags, waving them encouragingly as the procession passed. They had come simply “to thank him,” Ivey said. “To say we appreciate what he is doing for us and our freedom. It makes you proud. “If we can’t take a couple of minutes to do that, then what is wrong with us?” she added. Vardy concurred. “We are here living our lives and enjoying ourselves, and they are not,” she added. Event organizer Barb Shakell-Barkey said she was “overwhelmed” by the turnout.


Federal time for second home invader

Timothy Andrew Nightingale, 23, of Collingwood, pleaded guilty in the Ontario Court of Justice Apr. 14 to the indictable offences of breaking and entering a dwelling and using an imitation firearm in the commission of the crime. He was sentenced to two and a half years behind bars in a federal penitentiary, to be followed by three years on probation. Nightingale’s jointly accused – Grant Shuttleworth, also 23 and a Collingwood resident – pleaded guilty to similar charges plus a breach of probation last December. He received four years in a federal penitentiary. Prosecutor Paul Billington began by summarizing the evidence with a lengthy statement describing the case. He read that at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 21, 2008, both accused went to a Matthew Way Co-op address, where they tried to buzz in but were denied entry. Driven by alcohol and seeking revenge for an uncle who was seriously assaulted 10 days before, Shuttleworth "went to the steel door and kicked it in," Billington said. Both men entered wearing cloth masks and brandishing air guns. A five-minute reign of terror by Nightingale and Shuttleworth ensued, during which the mother of two girls, age 11 and 13, was threatened with death if she did not reveal the whereabouts of the male occupant. According to earlier evidence, Nightingale was ordered upstairs to search in vain for the other man – who remained safely hidden in a closet throughout the invasion. Meanwhile the mother had dialed 911, leaving the line open for the dispatcher to hear as both perpetrators "walked around smashing a television and ripping off closet doors." A bedroom door was also broken in half, added the Crown. At one point Nightingale confronted the younger girl, after first kicking in her unlocked bedroom door. While the terrified victim watched from a corner, he told her: "I’m sorry, I don’t like doing this to kids." Shuttleworth then warned both girls and their mother that "there will be blood" if they could not locate the man they sought. When police arrived at approximately 4:45 a.m., Nightingale – who was still holding the weapon – attempted to flee, court heard. It was admitted in Tuesday’s court by both counsel that the first offender "doesn’t recall pointing a gun, but might have." Trial lawyer Cecile Applegate said on her client’s behalf: "They were playing around with air guns. Shuttleworth tied a bandana around Mr. Nightingale’s face and his own. He thinks it’s a joke. When Shuttleworth kicked in the door, Mr. Nightingale knows it’s no longer a joke. Unfortunately he could have turned around and walked out, but he didn’t." The accused stood before Mr. Justice Roland Harris: "I’d just like to say I’m very sorry," he said. The defendant will be bound by a weapons ban for life. A DNA order will be affected within days, and his probationary period will address issues of alcohol abuse and empathy. "Three hundred years ago," wrote Harris, "Sir Edward Coke came up with the phrase: ‘A man’s home is his castle.’ It’s usually the one place you can feel safe. Instead, in this case what was in store for a number of people not to mention the target, was stark horror.


Stroud getting the iron out

Stroud’s poor water quality will be ironed out this year. Council has approved $1.2 million to build a filter that should make the often rusty-water clearer. While the water meets provincial standards for safe drinking water, the groundwater from three wells falls below the aesthetic objectives. An iron and manganese removal system will be added to Stroud’s water facility. “It looks like rust will finally be able to sleep in Stroud now,” Coun. Peter Kmet said. The coloured water had become a problem for residents over the years, with some complaining they couldn’t wash their clothes in the brown water. Innisfil council has sole-sourced the project to C.C. Tatham & Associates, which will speed up the design and construction of the filter system.


No tax break for county businesses

Simcoe County councillors opted not to give employers a tax break this year for fear of the impact on homeowners. Instead, county councillors will contemplate how to reduce the tax burden for business and industry at a strategic planning session Tuesday. And they’ll have a year to consider how to implement any ideas that may emerge as the county sets tax ratios – how to allocate the tax levy among the various property classes, such as residential, commercial, farm, pipeline and industrial. Collingwood Mayor Chris Carrier urged the mayors and deputy mayors of the county’s 16 member municipalities to give business extra care this year, as the recession stresses companies. He said the county has room to move to make its tax ratios more fair, as businesses bear more than their fair share of not only the municipal tax, but even six to 10 times more than a residential taxpayer in education taxes. "We have significant employers looking toward all levels of government to offer stimulus and be more fair," he said Tuesday. "We’re a long, long way from the (provincially recommended) range of fairness. What I’m asking is the moving forward of the bylaw (setting taxes) be held off, until we collectively discuss this." His motion, however, failed, and county councillors set the new taxes, effective March 24. "I’m not opposed to what Coun. Carrier is suggesting (but) we really need to see the actual effect on a number of municipalities. My community is 95-per-cent residential," said Tiny Township Mayor Peggy Breckenridge. "It’s probably not too bad, but without the numbers, how can we move forward?" Switching the ratio slightly would mean a few dollars more for residents, while sparing companies with higher assessments much more. It would impact municipalities differently, depending on their make up. Collingwood, with its diverse employment and industrial base, would benefit, while Tiny, which is largely residential, would see its support to the county rise. Two weeks ago, Essa Township Mayor David Guergis highlighted a Barrie company that was poised to build two plants in Essa, but which went to the United States instead, where taxes were lower and municipal regulations fewer.


Snowarama raises $9,000-plus

The Snowarama for Easter Seals Kids event in Clearview Township on Jan. 31 raised more than $9,000. Event spokesperson Charlene Myke made the announcement last week, saying that in total the event brought in $9,570. The annual event involves snowmobilers in the area collecting pledges and then going for a ride on their machines. The fundraiser, which includes events province-wide, was founded in 1975 by Whipper Billy Watson, a famous Canadian wrestler from the 1940s to the 1970s. The money that’s raised allows Easter Seals to help physically disabled children by providing them with funds to purchase mobility devices such as wheelchairs. Easter Seals, founded in 1922 by a handful of Rotary clubs, also runs summer camps and other recreational programs for youth with disabilities. The Blue Mountain Snowdrifters, the local chapter of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs and the Collingwood Progress Club, presented the local event. Sledders traveled on trails maintained by the club. The event was based in a parking lot off Nottawasaga Sideroad 33/34. Participants included Clearview Township mayor Ken Ferguson, a long-time snowmobiler. The mayor said he’s taken part in the fundraiser for roughly 20 years.