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.


Simcoe County Council Notes

More Seniors Wait Longer For Housing As of Dec. 31, 2008, the County of Simcoe had 3,224 families on the waiting list for assisted housing, which is down slightly from 2007’s 3,317 families. However, although applications fell last year, the number of seniors rose; the older residents made up 25 per cent of the waitlist. Their number has grown to 787, up from 566 in 2005. Seniors waited on average 3.2 years, while singles waited 2.3 years and families 1.5 years. Demand for housing rose in Elmvale, Stayner and Wasaga Beach. WiFi Traffic Up At Libraries Almost 600 people accessed wireless internet at Simcoe County libraries in December. The highest usage was recorded in libraries in Tay Township, where 159 people logged onto the service. County Museum Cashes In The Simcoe County Museum saw its donations rise almost $104,000 in 2008; donations totaled $161,775. The museum’s strategy features more grassroots public relations and appearances at lower-tier municipal events to raise awareness and donations.


Hospital deep in the red

Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital is projecting a $6.9 million operating deficit for the coming year as it struggles to reconcile surging demand for services with inadequate funding. “It is going to be a big challenge,” CEO Elisabeth Riley told the board of directors during a Tuesday night meeting. March 31 marked the end of the previous fiscal year for Orillia’s hospital, which reported a projected deficit of $1.8 million – a figure that could change once all revenues and expenditures are accounted for. That shortfall will be applied to the hospital’s line of credit. Top of mind at this week’s meeting, however, was the deficit for the coming year. It was initially estimated at $10.6 million, though officials are hoping to reduce the shortfall by $3.6 million through a plan to trim costs and explore potential revenue generators. Renting out an operating room for plastic surgeries, bulk purchasing of supplies and an automated drug dispenser that puts patients in touch with a pharmacist via the Internet are among the measures proposed. Officials are additionally hoping to reduce overtime and sick days through better management and scheduling of staff time. “No service reductions are in this budget,” said Cheryl Harrison, vice-president of patient services. Several factors are driving the deficit, Riley said. Patients who should be in nursing homes are occupying hospital beds due to a lack of long-term care spaces in the community, she noted. That, coupled with a chronic shortage of family physicians, is placing added pressure on the emergency department, she said. Board member Dr. Rob Meeder was concerned the effort to find savings as outlined in Riley’s presentation would impact negatively on quality of care. “We’ve already been focused on efficiency and doing as much as we can with as little as we can,” Meeder added. Riley stressed that additional efficiencies are necessary, and that staff would ensure patient care does not suffer. In the same breath, she would not rule out the possibility of job losses, only to say layoffs are not being contemplated “yet.” The plan does envision changes to how staff members’ skills are utilized, and as a result, “there is a potential it will impact people’s jobs.”   Riley later added that, “There will be changes, so we cannot say that there will be zero layoffs.” Riley will now present the board’s plan to the Local Health Integration Network, the agency responsible for overseeing the delivery of health care in the region. She said the agency has the power to waive the requirement that hospitals operate with a balanced budget. “They know it is a significant deficit and they know we have tried hard to get it where it is,” she added. Board member Tony Katarynych stressed that Soldiers’ was not alone in its challenges. “This is a much bigger problem,” he said. “We are not unique by any means.”


Budget trimming under way

The Municipality of Meaford has begun the process to cut its 2009 proposed operating budget. Meaford council at a special meeting last Thursday afternoon received an update about the 2009 budget from municipal staff. The initial budget included an 18% increase in local taxes. Council deemed that amount too high and asked staff to bring back a budget with an 8% local increase. At Thursday’s meeting, members of staff brought forward a budget update that identified more than $800,000 in proposed cuts to the budget that if implemented will achieve the 8% increase council asked for. "We have worked very hard to make sure you have a budget before you at 8%," said CAO Frank Miele. "We focused on cutting services not mandated by the provincial government," said the CAO. Council looked over the list of proposed cuts and made general comments and suggestions about the overall budget. No lengthy debate or discussions about the proposed cuts was held at Thursday’s meeting. Many of the proposed cuts will be controversial with the public. They include: eliminating dust suppression on rural gravel roads to save $100,000, reducing the gravel maintenance budget by $70,000, cutting the municipality’s subsidy for organized sports at the ball park and the arena to save a combined $55,000, eliminate the service to collect leaf and yard waste to save $71,400 and re-organizing the planning department in order to reduce costs in that area by $31,000. The update also proposed cutting staff salary increases proposed in 2009 by $200,000. "You’re going in the right direction. Thank you, but I’m convinced we can continue. I can see some other areas to cut," said Deputy Mayor Mike Traynor. "We need to set the tone. We’re being told loud and clear that we need to do something here to make the pendulum swing the other way in order to get out of the rut we’re in," said Traynor. The proposed elimination of the leaf and yard waste collection program generated a significant discussion. The municipality spent a significant amount of money in 2008 upgrading the leaf and yard waste collection station at the 7th Line Operations Centre. The money was spent in order to ensure the collection of that waste material is done within Ministry of the Environment guidelines. Staff are now proposing not to activate that facility and instead leave it unused. Councillors were concerned about the optics of constructing a facility one year and then keeping it closed the next year. Several councillors suggested the municipality look at a user fee for the collection of leaf and yard waste as a means to add revenue to municipal coffers. CAO Miele said the administration would explore that avenue and report to council about its implications. The spectre of user fees to collect leaf and yard waste led Mayor Francis Richardson to suggest examining user fees for overall garbage collection. "Maybe it’s time to eliminate all the free bags and make it a user pay system," said Richardson. "Municipalities are going more and more to user pay systems where they can. We need to look at that," said the Mayor. Other suggestions to raise money include implementing a business licensing fee for the municipality and bringing in a dog license fee. CAO Miele said staff would investigate the logistics of those ideas.


Up in flames

Firefighters from Midland, Penetanguishene, Tay and Tiny Township Fire Departments fought this fully involved fire, which started around 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 15 in a home on Fuller Avenue near Penetanguishene. No one was injured in the fire but the home was destroyed – Fire Chief Paul Ryan is estimating damage to be approximately $175,000. A quick thinking neighbour made the 911 call and firefighters responded immediately to begin battling the blaze. Ryan said the fire, which took several hours to bring under control, likely started in the kitchen, however no cause has been determined. Here, firefighters try to quench the remnants of the blaze in the roof section.


Oddfellows support community health centres

The Thornbury Independent Order of Oddfellows received their Charter in October of 1884 and in 1936 they purchased the lodge building on Main Street in Thornbury. The upper level of the building became the lodge hall and half of the main floor has been home to the Thornbury Bakery for many years and the other half in later years Studio 16. Over the years the loge has supported various local charities along with fire and accident victims. For many years the lodge put on a New Year’s Eve dance at the Thornbury High School, which is now the elementary school. At a provincial level, the I.O.O.F. lodges support summer camps for kids with Cancer, one being Camp Trillium. The lodges also support an eye research program through the University of Toronto as well as Leukemia research. In the past few years, membership in the Thornbury lodge started to decline and as existing members started to age, a decision was made in 2008 to close the Thornbury lodge and amalgamate with Spirit Rock lodge in Wiarton. At this time the lodge building was sold. The remaining members of the lodge now had the responsibility to disperse of the lodge assets and the main objective was to keep the money within the community. Donations at this time have been made to the installation of a new audio system in the arena, the Beaver Valley Outreach, the Beaver Valley Athletic Association, the Beaver Valley Pre-school, the Thornbury theatre group, the Marsh St. Centre, the Golden Beavers and the Community Family Health Centres.


Council members raise concerns over special meeting

Two members of Collingwood council have raised concerns over the calling of a special meeting of council that is slated for this Monday. Mayor Chris Carrier has called a special meeting of council for Monday at 9 a.m., at the Royal Canadian Legion. The meeting is to hear a presentation from Brig-Gen. Denis Thompson and Chief Warrant Officer Christopher White about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. Deputy Mayor Sandra Cooper said the content of the meeting isn’t the issue but she is concerned that once again the mayor has scheduled a meeting and announced it to the public without the rest of council having any knowledge. "Council wasn’t aware of it until he sent out the press release," she said. Cooper said when special meetings are called, it would be nice if "we could see the agenda before it goes out to the media. You pick up the newspaper and you read it." This is the second time in the past several weeks that Cooper has raised concerns about not receiving information before it’s released to the public. Cooper voiced her displeasure with Carrier sending out a press release on Collingwood Ethanol before it was sent to council. She said the meeting on Monday should have been scheduled as an informal session, open to the public, but not a special meeting of council. "I would look at it a different way. I think I would have had it informal," she said. "It’s not questions of us being asked." Carrier said the representatives from the military contacted the municipality to do a deputation but were unable to make the regular 5 p.m. council meeting. He said this would allow them to make their presentation to council and the community. Carrier said he had only received concerns from Counc. Ian Chadwick. Chadwick was concerned with the timing of the meeting, saying he will be unable to attend because of work commitments. However, he said he thinks special meetings should only be called to deal with municipal business. "Special meetings should be held for matters of urgent municipal business," he said. "This is nothing against the military."


In memory of Brandon

Dale Kramp and the staff of Salon Solace present Angelika Crisp with a $4,000 donation from the Salon Solace Cut-a-Thon last month. The money raised by the Salon will go toward the Brandon Crisp Fund in partnership with the Canadian Tire Jump-Start program to help underprivileged children play organized sports. So far, $65,000 has been raised in Brandon Crisp’s name. The Crisp family continues to support this cause into the spring season with the first-annual Brandon Crisp Memorial Golf Tournament at National Pines May 22. Corporate sponsorships are still available. For more information, visit www.brandoncrisp.ca.


Heavy metal

They call it the heavy-lift division for a reason. A crew from Western Mechanical Electrical Millwright Ltd. recently travelled to Lynton, Alberta to help Suncor Energy with its $20.6 billion “Voyageur” oil sands expansion and upgrade. The specific goal was to help five new refinery reactors, four of which weigh in excess of a million pounds, reach their new home. The fifth reactor weighs a paltry 750,000 pounds. “They were just over 100-feet long and 14-feet in diameter,” recalls structural engineer Mark Carney, who worked to ensure each piece of equipment was safely lifted the requisite 17 feet straight up. “It’s the heaviest lift we’ve done.” It’s not, however, the heaviest lift seen in northern Alberta. “They move heavy stuff there,” Carney says. Western was invited to the project by CN Railway, a partner in many projects. CN was hired by the engineering firm responsible for bringing the reactors by ship from Japan, through the Panama Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway to Thunder Bay. The ship’s cranes then shifted the machinery to a train which brought them as close to their final destination as possible by rail. Western made the lift from train to truck with a 1.8-million pound capacity gantry, using strand-jack technology. The hydraulic system powering the lift is computer-operated to control the precision boost. “A lot of our equipment is designed so you can assemble it in different arrangements to match the needs of each project,” explains Carney. “We had this equipment before, we just had to modify it into this arrangement for this particular lift.” The trucking configuration that completed the trip included nine truck tractors and a customized trailer with 448 wheels and 28 axles. The return trip took seven days from the rail yard to the Suncor site, Carney says. The same trip would take about 45 minutes by car. “They had to shut down the highway,” he reports. “So they could only do it at night and at low traffic times. They went about 20-to-25 kilometres an hour.” In all its divisions, Western strives to handle the jobs traditional companies don’t have the resources to do. In fact, they’re often called in by other electrical or mechanical contractors who have been awarded an overall project, just to do the trickier portions. Although the crew at Western is quite capable of tackling more conventional projects, more often than not they tend to be called in for their expertise in more challenging maintenance and equipment installations. “The more challenging the job, the more interested and involved the workers are,” Carney has said. The heavy-lift division has “really been taking off – especially with all the infrastructure work going on,” he adds. As part of GO Transit’s recent upgrades, a railway bridge in Port Credit needed to be replaced. Although it was in a highly inaccessible location, the real challenge was the time factor involved. “We only had a five-hour window,” says Carney. The night-time project carried the proviso not to disturb the travels of commuting train passengers, so finishing on time was vital. While the old bridge was destroyed on site for easier disposal, the new 330-tonne bridge was brought in by rail and lowered into place as a complete entity. Again working with trains, but this time a little closer to home, Western was contracted to help shift a steam engine, its coal tender and a caboose from their long-time home on Barrie’s Lakeshore Drive, to a new display at the Simcoe County Museum. Engine 1531, built in 1910, was blocking the progress of the city’s $18.5 waterfront sewer project, so it was moved last fall to the railway station display in Midhurst. Don Anderson Haulage has a specialty trailer equipped with rail tracks that was once shuffled streetcars in Toronto. Perfectly equipped, it was put to work on this project. Again using strand jacks, Western lifted the heavy trains on and off the truck at either end of the trip. With up to 250 employees at any one time, Western has been serving the construction industry since 1979. The culture of innovation and creative trouble-shooting has been introduced by the leadership team and has filtered down throughout each department. “That’s what we do,” Carney says simply. “That’s what we’re good at.”


New Tecumseth’s longtime CFO retiring

With a family tree deeply rooted in local government, New Tecumseth’s chief financial officer and treasurer Paul Whiteside is retiring. Whiteside’s last day on the job is slated for July 3. The current manager of finance and deputy treasurer Mark Sirr has been appointed by council to fill Whiteside’s shoes. Whiteside has been with the municipality for 27 years, starting with the former Town of Alliston in 1982 as the treasurer and deputy clerk. After amalgamation in 1991, Whiteside continued his career with the newly created Town of New Tecumseth. "It’s been a pleasure and an honour to serve my whole municipality and community as a public employee," Whiteside said. "My decision to retire was not an easy choice." Taking a position as town treasurer saw Whiteside following in his father Lorne’s footsteps. Lorne was the treasurer and clerk of the Town of Alliston from 1951 to 1973. Whiteside’s Uncle Gerald held the position before that. Whiteside’s family history in the government began with his grandfather Joseph, who was the warden of Simcoe County in 1906. In 2005 Whiteside was awarded a Fellowship by the Society of Management Accountants of Canada in recognition of service to the society, the profession and the community. "Paul has contributed greatly to the Town of New Tecumseth. While we are going to miss him, we wish him all the best as he enjoys the greens and the many joys of retirement," said New Tecumseth Mayor Mike MacEachern, one of five mayors that Whiteside has worked with during his career.   Born and raised in Alliston, Whiteside also served on the board of directors for Stevenson Memorial Hospital for 17 years. In retirement, he plans to continue being active in the community. "For the first few months, I think I’ll enjoy a little rest and relaxation. I plan on golfing, using the walking track at the New Tecumseth Recreation Centre and taking our dog for many walks," he said. "I would also like to do something for the community."