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


Ex-cop’s undercover experiences basis for book

Usually, new retirees spend a little time smelling the roses. For one former police officer, however, that just wasn’t an option. Instead, Greg Quesnelle – who recently wrapped up a 30-year career with the Ontario Provincial Police – opted to get right back to work writing his first book. “Undercover: My Story” is a fictional account of a young man who gets hired by a major provincial police department and quickly climbs the ranks to become an undercover officer with the drug squad. The story, Quesnelle said, describes noteworthy events throughout the character’s undercover career. The Penetanguishene resident told The Mirror despite always dreaming of police work, he actually started off as a nurse in training at the Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene. “I was too young to be a policeman and was fortunate enough to be hired by the province of Ontario (for the) practical nursing program,” he said. While he enjoyed that job, it wasn’t long before Quesnelle realized he just couldn’t let his fate pass him by. At the age of 21, he applied to both the OPP and RCMP. “I was probably drawn to (policing) by the adventure and the excitement,” he said. “You get to help people, do things, travel …  plus it’s a very honest and sincere career.” Quesnelle officially retired March 1, 2008, and has spent the past year drafting and writing his “fictional memoir.” Although he found himself confronted with a few unique challenges, he got through it thanks to a number of motivating factors. “The motivation for me to write book, was threefold,” he said. “(The first) is in memory of my friend Bill. He is one of the only OPP undercover officers that I know that was ever killed in the performance of his duty and recognized as such,” he said, adding Bill was one of the first friends and cohorts he got to know when he first joined the undercover unit. “His death is still unsolved. In time, people forget. It very easily could have been me there…. I wanted to keep the story alive of the people that are there to protect society.” The rest of his motivation, he said, came from his wife for “putting up with (his) career for 30 years” and his daughter for urging him to write the book. Quesnelle said his job provided most of the inspiration for the book and, although it is a work of fiction, there are many parallels to his own career. “I’ve been there (and) done it. I’ve bought the heroin, bought the coke, bought the grass, the LSD, stolen property,” he said. “I did an undercover jail job where I was in jail with a suspected double murderer … so (it is) loosely based on (my) own experiences,” he said. “It’s a different twist to have a fictional memoir. Usually, books are categorized as one of the other … but there are a lot of (parallels) with the story line and my career.” Quesnelle noted society doesn’t often get to see the covert side of policing. “It’s not your everyday-type job. It’s a real challenge (that requires) living with honesty and integrity,” he said, adding the story also shows the dangerous elements of the job – something he’s hoping readers will be able to appreciate a little more after reading the book. “I hope (readers) will understand that there are people out there in specialized services that are doing a lot of good, dangerous work for society,” he said. “A lot of times (we) are the unsung heroes. We don’t advertise who we are; we just do things because it’s the right thing to do.” The book, which was published March 11, is available online at and . nmillion@simcoe.com


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. nmillion@simcoe.com


ATM kiosk safe haven for assault victim

A woman fought off a drunken assailant and barricaded herself in a downtown ATM kiosk last week. Midland police report the woman was walking in the area of King Street and Hugel Avenue around 7 a.m. on April 1 when she was approached by an intoxicated male. The man grabbed her and tried to push her to the ground, but the woman was able to escape and flee to the relative safety of a nearby ATM kiosk. The thug fled when the woman called police, but officers found him a short time later. The 20-year-old man has been charged with assault and two counts of breach of probation.


Thieves steal hospital donation money

Money reserved for a donation to the Meaford Hospital Foundation was stolen in a break-in downtown Thornbury on Sunday night. The thief or thieves broke a small window at the back of the Grey Heron Natural Design store on Bruce St. and stole $325 cash and some silent auction items including iPod speakers. Store owner Karen Farmilo said the cash, from ticket sales, and silent auction items were designated for the International Women’s Day event at the Beaver Valley Community Centre this Saturday.  She said she is still making a catalogue of the items left, and isn’t sure what else was stolen. Farmilo arrived on Monday morning, March 2, to find the broken window. She called the police from a neighbouring business and waited for them to come. A motion sensor triggered an alarm when she and the police entered the building, but the alarm did not sound during the break-in. The suspect made a mess looking through boxes and bags in the desk at the back. Some jewelry kept in the desk was also stolen. Farmilo’s computer was not taken and the suspect did not go to the merchandise section of the store where there were more motion sensors. The window that was broken was only about 20 inches high and 20 inches wide. “I guess this kind of thing is always sort of unexpected,” said Farmilo. She sent an email out to the Business Improvement Association suggesting that the downtown businesses should work harder to watch out for each other to prevent this sort of thing from happening. “Disappointing that this [money] was for the foundation donation,” said Farmilo. “Hopefully we will be able to have a great day and make a good donation to the hospital foundation in spite of this.” The International Women’s Day event will be at the Beaver Valley Arena on Saturday, March 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The proceeds from the ticket sales and silent auction will go to The Meaford Hospital Foundation and Harmony North Chorus. Anyone wishing to make a donation to this event can call Karen Farmilo at 519-599-3443 or email her at greyheron@bellnet.ca.


Proposed break for businesses rebuffed

MIDHURST – 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 had 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 not only a large share of the municipal tax, but also 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 cost residents a few dollars more, while sparing companies with higher assessments much more. It would impact municipalities differently, depending on their makeup. 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 went to the United States instead, where taxes were lower and municipal regulations fewer. lwatt@simcoe.com


Close SCI: Board staff

Simcoe County District School Board staff is recommending the closure of Stayner Collegiate Institute, Elmvale District High School and Penetanguishene Secondary School. The recommendation is in a report by associate director Lou Brandes, the board’s superintendent of facility services. The report was released Thursday and presented to the board’s facility standing committee yesterday (Tuesday). The board reviewed three recommendations made by an accommodation review committee (ARC) struck to consider enrolment and facility issues relating to five area high schools over the past year. It reviewed high schools in Collingwood, Stayner, Elmvale, Midland and Penetanguishene. Wasaga Beach was also considered in the review as a possible school site. The ARC recommended maintaining all five schools and making improvements to each. It also recommended a six-school solution, in which a high school would also be built in Wasaga Beach and a four-school scenario, in which Penetanguishene and Midland secondary schools merge. "The ARC recommended scenarios, while addressing accommodation, program and building condition pressures in the short term will not address long term pressures," reported Brandes. "Staff recommend a three-school solution that will retain Collingwood Collegiate Institute in the west area, Midland Secondary School in the east area and a new Elmvale/Wasaga Beach secondary school in the central area of the ARC." The decision is based on enrolment projections that will see the area’s student population of 4,290 decline to 3,794 in 2018. Those students would be dispersed between the new school, built to accommodate 1,000 people and the two existing schools, which would be expanded to accommodate 1,400 each. The report recommends a review be undertaken to finalize attendance boundaries, which would determine which schools students attend depending on where they live. The report contains a total of nine recommendations to the facility standing committee. It recommends Elmvale District High School and Stayner Collegiate Institute close when the new secondary school is formed and that Penetanguishene Secondary School close on June 30, 2010. It also recommends improvement be made to Collingwood Collegiate Institute and Midland Secondary School. Staff is also advised to look for possible community partnerships when looking for a new school site. Brandes reports that top up grants for school operations and renewal are dwindling so the board must address excess capacity in a timely fashion. Officials estimate it will cost $23-million over the next 10 years to renew Stayner Collegiate Institute, Elmvale District High School and Penetanguishene Secondary School. It is estimated it will cost $16,502,448 to renew Collingwood Collegiate Institute and $20,145,117 to renew Midland Secondary School over the next 10 years. Shawn Davidson, a Clearview Township councillor and member of the ARC, said he is disappointed with the recommendation to close Stayner, Elmvale and Penetanguishene high schools. "I think the report is disturbing," he told The Stayner Sun on Monday. "The ARC put together recommendations based on a year’s worth of consultation and there isn’t a single person involved in this process that asked for this solution. Not a teacher, not a student, not a community. Nobody asked for three large schools. This (recommendation) is strictly based on a financial benefit to the board." Davidson said the fight to keep the three high schools open will continue. "We’re certainly not going to play dead over this," he said. "As a municipality – and hopefully parents and other residents – we’ll voice our concern over the prospect of losing our school. Clearview as a community is slated to grow. This doesn’t make sense." Caroline Smith, Clearview’s trustee, also wasn’t happy with the staff recommendation. "The Minister of Education recently spoke at a conference for school board trustees. She was very clear that the direction the government wants to take is partnerships between different ministries such as agriculture, health and education…to create community hubs that include schools, clinics, public libraries, etc. She supported rural hub schools and in fact encouraged trustees to look at options in this direction," Smith said. "These two key pieces…do not support the regional recommendation in the…staff report, nor the school closures."


Van Loan silent about top Ontario Tory job

Could York-Simcoe’s Member of Parliament be a candidate for leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party? Rumours are afloat that Peter Van Loan, now serving as Public Safety Minister in Stephen Harper’s government, is assessing whether a run at the P.C. leadership would be in his best interests. John Tory’s departure from provincial politics after a disastrous by-election loss recently has created widespread speculation about his eventual successor. The party will meet to choose a new leader June 30. Van Loan is no stranger to the provincial scene. He served as president of the Progressive Conservative Party under Mike Harris. Since entering federal politics in 2004, he has held four influential cabinet posts. John Trotter, an Innisfil businessman and staunch Van Loan supporter, said, “Peter is the type of individual who would excel at any public post. He’s very well qualified to make his own decisions and he knows I think he would make a great public servant at any level. He is a tremendous elected official – either as a Cabinet minister, or provincial premier.” Sources told a Toronto newspaper that Van Loan has been contacting party members, trying to determine his level of support. Chris McCluskey, press secretary for Van Loan’s ministry, said Van Loan isn’t commenting on the speculation about his political future. “He is very focused on his work as Public Safety Minister,” McCluskey said. “His focus is on the job.” That job includes meeting with high-ranking officials of the Barack Obama administration this weekend. As for Van Loan, the only public comment he made about Tory’s departure was it “was a great loss for all the people of Ontario.”


Ontario dancers dazzle crowds at Blue Mountain

Young dancers from across Ontario visited Blue Mountain last weekend for the eighth annual Bedazzled Dance Championship competition. Seven hundred and three dancers performed 777 numbers at the Blue Mountain Inn from April 16 to 19. Dancers came from 17 clubs including the Collingwood School of Dance and two clubs in Barrie. This is the fifth year the competition was held at Blue Mountain, and the National championships will return to the same place in July. Bedazzled is one of Canada’s largest Dance competitions, according to director Tracy Covelli. "We are all about fun, healthy dance experience that all dancers will treasure for years to come," said Covelli. For more information about Bedazzled, visit their website at www.bedazzleddance.com.