O-P review process comes to an end

The lengthy process to review Grey County’s Official Plan came to an end at last Tuesday’s regular meeting of county council. County council passed a by-law officially adopting the reviewed plan at the meeting. Council’s approval of the new Official Plan means the local county review process has now been passed over to the provincial government for final approval. The time consuming process to review the Official Plan has been ongoing for several years and Tuesday’s formal adoption of the results of that process did not come without some controversy. Owen Sound county councillors Ruth Lovell-Stanners and Arlene Wright voted against the reviewed Official Plan due to Owen Sound’s objections over the plan’s approval of an expanded development area in Springmount – a highly developed, but unserviced area of the Township of Georgian Bluffs that is situated on the city’s border. "Owen Sound has consistently not approved the expansion of Springmount because of a lack of services there," Wright said. "We’re very concerned about the water table and the problems that could ensue," said Wright, who objected to Springmount being given a "secondary" settlement designation in the Official Plan. In responses to the comments from the Owen Sound councillors Georgian Bluffs Mayor Al Barfoot released an engineer’s report that he claimed proves development in Springmount is not hurting water resources in that area. "The report says there is no contamination of the bay," said Barfoot. Owen Sound Mayor Ruth Lovell-Stanners said the Springmount issue came up very late in the Official Plan process and needs more time to be studied. "This came up very late in the game. We need more time. We have a legitimate concern about the watershed," said Lovell-Stanners. The City of Owen Sound has always expressed concerns about development without full municipal services on its border. The Owen Sound representatives found little support for their position. Only Hanover Deputy Mayor Gerald Rogers voted with Lovell-Stanners and Wright in their quest to delay the approval of the Official Plan until the Springmount issue is decided. Grey County Planning Director Jan McDonald expressed a common sentiment in the county council chambers about the Official Plan when she gave an overview of the final product. "We’re tired. We’ve been at this a long time," said McDonald. The review process officially kicked off in 2005, with the bulk of the public meetings and open houses being held over the past couple years. "It has been a real team effort that I’m proud of," said McDonald. Planning was once a major hot button issue in Grey County. The provincial government of Premier Bob Rae ordered Grey County to develop an Official Plan in the early 1990s due to concerns about the county’s wide spread approval of severances in rural and agricultural areas. That provincial mandate resulted in the completion of the first County Official Plan at the end of the 1990s. The Plan received provincial approval – and became the planning document of record for the county – in 2000. The Official Plan is meant to have an approximate shelf life of 20 years with reviews mandated by provincial legislation every five years. McDonald said the new version of the Official Plan balances policies to help economic development and diversification, environmental protection and the preservation of local heritage and culture. "We believe we have found a balance," she said at the meeting. McDonald said the new version of the Official Plan contains 296 modifications to the original document. "Some are minor wording changes and others are entire sub-sections," she said. McDonald the Official Plan will now be forwarded to the province for approval. She said that process could take up to a year. The Blue Mountains Deputy Mayor and Planning and Community Development committee Chair Duncan McKinlay was pleased that the review process is complete. "I’m hoping this draft is fairly acceptable to the Ministry. There are lots of people across Grey that still want to invest and develop and they depend on certainty in our planning process," said McKinlay, who noted that the provincial approval process will still allow time for Owen Sound’s concerns to be considered. "The process ahead will give the opportunity to resolve long standing differences of opinion on settlement areas," he said.


Fanning the flames of literacy

Mundy’s Bay Public School has been taking part in a reading challenge for the month of February. To conclude the month, a literacy celebration took place March 6. Students participated in a program delivered by author Michael Wade, while Midland police Chief Paul Hamelin, Mayor Jim Downer and representatives from the Midland Fire Department, including Geoff Caldwell, read to students.


Wind farm committee members appointed

More than four months after it was approved, Council has finally appointed members to its alternative energy ad hoc committee. “I have to say we are certainly a little behind the eight ball on this one,” Mayor Brian Jackson said Wednesday after council appointed six members to the committee. The committee will be made up of  Jackson, Coun. Rod Boynton, citizen members Gary Taylor and Rick Earhart, and industry members Tim Cane and Chris Olthuis. The committee will recommend local standards for alternative energy sites, such as wind farms. But the group won’t have long to study the issue before it makes its first submission. It plans to meet in about two weeks to come up with a proposal to make to the province’s standing committee April 27 for the new Green Act. Originally, the committee was to recommend standards for an Innisfil zoning bylaw. But since then the provincial government has introduced the Green Act, which is expected to take much of the local planning powers away from municipalities when it comes to alternative energy sites. There are two wind farm applications before council. Schneider Power wants the town to rezone 200 acres near Conc. 5 and Highway 400 to allow five turbines. Skypower, another alternative energy company, has applied to erect two wind-testing towers south of Fennels Corners near Highway 11. Several neighbours to the proposed wind farms, including the Cookstown Aerodome, are opposing the wind farms. Last November, Boynton suggested council strike its own committee to recommend made-in-Innisfil standards for wind farms. On Wednesday, Boynton called on the ad hoc committee to look at international standards since “there are no provincial nor national standards.” For instance, France now wants wind turbines to be set back 1.2 kilometres from the nearest home, while the current setback in Innisfil would be 300 metres.


More than $15k stolen from store

About $15,000 worth of cigarettes and unknown quantity of cash was stolen from Mac’s Convenience Store in Tottenham after someone broke in through the roof of the building early Tuesday morning. The thieves cut the phone lines to the building, before cutting a hole in the roof and then disabling the alarm panel inside the store, said Sean Sportun, the director of loss prevention for Mac’s Convenience Stores in central Canada. The culprits physically removed one small safe in the store, before moving on to crack open the big tobacco safe at the back of the store, Sportun said. The small safe had about $800 in cash. The tobacco safe also had an undisclosed amount of cash. Sportun said he suspects the strike was a professional job, given the expertise required to disable the alarm and crack the safe. He said there have been about six rooftop break-ins to Mac’s stores across Ontario this year, but he doesn’t know if they are related. The break-in happened between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. The culprits exited through the back door, police said. They were wearing black hoodie sweatshirts and masks. There were at least two culprits and perhaps a third, police said. They are believed to be male. Damage to the roof and the safes is expected to be several thousands of dollars.


Teen dies after fall at local ski hill

A 17-year-old girl who died as a result of a skiing accident was remembered by friends as an exceptional student and athlete with a ready smile, and dreams of becoming a veterinarian. Elisabeth Reurink was on a school trip from London, Ont., at the Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood. She was near the bottom of a hill rated as intermediate when she skied off to the side of the open slope yesterday at about 10:50 a.m., police said. "At the bottom of the run she collided with a tree," said Const. Theresa Van Boven of the Collingwood OPP. Police had an area of the hill taped off while they conducted their investigation. Reurink, who was wearing a helmet, was taken to Collingwood General and Marine Hospital where she was pronounced dead. The accident was the third fatality on Ontario slopes in two weeks. At the time of the accident, weather and snow conditions were good. Friend Christina Chehade remembered Reurink, a student at London’s Catholic Central High School, as a rosy-cheeked young woman with a bright future. "She was an amazing student … achieved high rankings in both cross-country (running) and wrestling, an amazing friend, always had a smile on her face and would laugh no matter how lame my jokes were," she said yesterday. Reurink maintained a 90-plus average, she said. In 2005, Reurink received a Spirit Award, presented to students who "exemplify the Ontario Catholic Graduate Expectations," according to the London District Catholic School Board website. Last Sunday, a 45-year-old Toronto man died at Beaver Valley Ski Club, about 30 kilometres southwest of Collingwood. John Zsolt, described as a skilled snowboarder, fell and crashed into a tree. He was also wearing a helmet. On Feb. 18, "James" Boo Sung Moon, a 13-year-old Korean visa student at Richmond Hill’s Trillium Woods Public School, was killed after he lost control and hit a tree on a beginner hill at Snow Valley. He was not wearing a helmet, which prompted Premier Dalton McGuinty, an avid skier, to buy one himself and urge others to don one on the slopes. Torstar News Service 


Surplus cash could help county’s poor

MIDHURST – Simcoe County ended 2008 with a $5-million surplus, some of which will go to help the region’s growing poor, Warden Tony Guergis suggested. The initial plan was to evenly split that surplus, which resulted from unexpected provincial grants, between reserves and this year’s operating budget. But, with the tough economic times and increasing demand on social services, the county will likely use the unexpected cash to help struggling families. “There’s been a 20 per cent increase in demand on the social assistance programs the county provides,” said Guergis. “We’ve got a real crunch, and we have to prepare and try to adequately provide the level of service country residents expect, even in these tough economic times.” How the surplus will be spent this year is up to county council, which has its next regular meeting April 28. The county, bracing for an increase in its Ontario Works caseload, is planning to hire four temporary caseworkers, as well as help struggling families who don’t qualify for social assistance with unanticipated medical expenses. In January, the caseload reached 5,418, almost 700 more than a year before. In February, the caseload increased to 5,733, 18 per cent higher than the February 2008 level of 4,843. “Current numbers indicate that the present economic downturn is having a greater impact on social services than was originally anticipated so early on in the recession,” said Ontario Works director Jamie Moran. “Simcoe County has experienced an economic downturn much faster than was anticipated.” According to the 2009 Simcoe County Training Board’s Trends and Opportunities and Priorities report, the county has sustained a significant hit due to numerous business closures, job losses and layoffs, particularly in the manufacturing and auto sectors. Traditionally, these have been higher-paying jobs, meaning laid-off workers are finding themselves in a difficult financial situation, Moran added. They are turning to Ontario Works, only to find it does not meet their financial needs, he continued, and they must also look into upgrading and retraining programs. County council is also expected to bolster some health-related benefits for low-income individuals not receiving social assistance, including emergency dental coverage, dentures and eyeglasses. Requests for help from families not qualified for social assistance are up. “Often, these callers have no other resources and are calling our office as a last resort,” said Greg Bishop, the county’s children’s and community services manager. “Unfortunately, we must advise these people in need the county has no funding available, unless they are a recipient of social assistance. Furthermore, staff is at a loss as to where these residents can go to access assistance.” Bishop proposed using $100,000 from a provincial child-benefit restructuring fund to help low-income families who do not qualify for Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program. Some families in need are low-income earners, while others receive employment insurance or disability. [email protected]


Volunteer award results announced

The 2009 winners of the Order The Blue Mountains awards for 2009 have been announced and the winners will be honoured at a special reception next weekend. Steve Hoffman, a former resident of The Blue Mountains and community enthusiast, was nominated for a volunteer award posthumously by his wife. His contributions to the town were recognized and applauded by the judges. He will be awarded a lifetime achievement award, one not given out by the town before. Bill Abbotts and Rob Potter both achieved the Order of The Blue Mountains for their volunteer efforts in the arts and culture community. Abbotts was nominated for his efforts behind the scenes at countless community events such as Georgian Sound performances and Marsh Street Centre activities. Potter was nominated for his contributions to the Craigleith Depot, the Marsh Street Centre and other community campaigns. Joan Gaudet will be honoured with the order in the category of community service. Gaudet is a volunteer with Beaver Valley Outreach and a friendly neighbour. Sharon Dinsmore, active member of the Beaver Valley Outreach, earned an order award in sports and recreation for her commitment to the BVAA, organizing big events and countless hours she put in to local sports in the past. Ayla Tymczuk earned the first ever order in the youth category. She works with local youth organizations and was nominated for her actions over the past year to make The Blue Mountains more youth friendly and aware. The reception to present the orders will be Sunday, May 3 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Beaver Valley Community Centre in Thornbury. For more information on the event or to RSVP, contact Lisa Kidd at 599-3131 ext. 282.


Meaford residents face hefty tax hike

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