2009 budget adopted for The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains town council adopted its 2009 budget including a tax increase of 2.2 per cent. A staff report received by council at their March 9 meeting estimated that taxes collected in 2009 will amount to $9,527,545 compared to the $8,903,253 in 2008. Council discussed the budget at a series of seven public sessions starting December 4 with the most recent amendments made at last week’s meeting on March 2. The original draft budget suggested a tax increase of 5.3 per cent, but council directed staff to make further cuts to bring the number down. Staff made cuts to the training and travel budget, axed the clothing allowance for inside workers, reduced the amount of money transferred to reserves, pushed capital projects into future years, cut legal costs and adjusted the IT budget to more conservative levels. Councillor Bob Gamble, chair of the finance and administration committee, remained opposed to adopting and enacting the 2009 budget. During the previous sessions, he explained that the town needed to have a more frugal budget given the status of the global economy at the time. After council voted in favour of accepting the budget, Councillor Cameron Kennedy said he hoped they could start discussing the 2010 budget early this year, because he wished they had more time to look at the 2009 budget.


Thief makes cop’s job easy

A Midland police officer investigating a theft from a downtown hardware store had an easy time finding the culprit – he was strolling down King Street carrying stolen merchandise. The incident happened around 5 p.m. on March 26. The officer was driving to the scene of the crime when he spotted the thief. A 26-year-old Midland man has been charged with theft under $5,000, possession of stolen property and breach of probation. He was held for a bail hearing in Barrie the following day.


Good Samaritan blocks drunk driver

Good Samaritan Blocks Drunk Driver A member of the public stopped a potential drunk driver by blocking the accused’s car until police arrived. Police were called to a Tottenham business Friday when a resident noticed someone that looked like they were drunk get into a car and drive away. The resident blocked the suspect vehicle until police arrived. The accused, a 55-year-old Beeton man, refused to give police a breath sample. He is charged with impaired care and control and refusing to provide a breath sample. His vehicle was impounded and his licence was suspended for 90 days. Tools Stolen A maintenance shed in Adjala-Tosorontio was broken into Sunday night. Police were called Tuesday morning after someone noticed that someone had broken in through the door of the building, which is on the 25th Sideroad. Tools were stolen from the shed. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 1-888-310-1122 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.


Standoff in New Lowell

A standoff between members of the OPP and a man inside a Lamers Road home in New Lowell took place on Friday. Const. Mark Kinney of the Huronia West OPP detachment in Wasaga Beach says police went to the home mid-afternoon. One male was apprehended leaving the home shortly after authorities arrived and another spoke to police and turned himself in just after 10 p.m., Kinney said. Police closed County Road 9 for a period of time on Friday. No further details were available.


Laser lights in town sights

The Blue Mountains plans to install laser lighting at the Mill Dam in Thornbury as part of the bridge reconstruction this year. The plan also includes a sound system for downtown Thornbury, including Bruce Street and King Street, according to a proposed capital project form included in the 2009 budget approved by council. The costs associated with this project include $141,500 for construction and $4,335 for equipment. The project form also states that an annual cost of $2,000 be added to the budget for maintenance and other miscellaneous repairs. The town expects that all $145,835 will be raised through grants, donations and developer contributions including partnerships with the Ministry of Natural Resources, the BIA, the Chamber of Commerce an the Ministry of Tourism. According to the report, the project will not go ahead unless donations and grants cover 100 per cent of the cost.   The report states that the light and sound system implementation will serve as a "hub of interest" which will support community events by creating a focal point of interest for the community residents and visitors. As well, the system will "provide visual and ambient level audio entertainment and will complement current and future social events." The Blue Mountains CAO, Paul Graham, said the town had floodlights shining on the Beaver River Dam prior to amalgamation. Graham said the project was included in the 2008 budget, but the town was unable to raise the money so it was pushed to this year, and the town has not directed any funds to the project yet. "We remain excited about the potential of this project," said Graham. "It remains in our budget documents but it has no direct impact on our municipal budgets." Mayor Ellen Anderson likes the idea to encourage tourism and for the enjoyment of residents. "It would be fantastic, but I believe it will be a while before it happens due to economics," she said. "Although, you never know."


College faces $3M shortfall

Georgian College is counting on a share of newly-announced provincial funding to erase an operating deficit of nearly $3 million. College president Brian Tamblyn this week confirmed the multi-campus school was closing out the year with a projected shortfall of $2.8 million. Government funding has failed to keep pace with rising enrolment in the college’s diploma and degree programs – the latter offered through university partnerships, he said. “We have been growing very quickly for the last four years,” Tamblyn said. “It kind of catches up to you operationally.” The province, in its latest budget, announced $150 million in immediate, one-time support for Ontario’s colleges and universities. Georgian College will learn in the next couple of weeks whether its share of the fund will cover the sizable deficit, Tamblyn said.  “It is quite possible our share could cover our projected deficit this year, which ends (March 31),” he added. Tamblyn stressed that Georgian is not alone as it works to overcome financial challenges. “Pretty well all the colleges and universities are looking at serious financial situations,” he added. Ontario’s colleges receive the lowest funding of any in the country, with operating grants based on enrolment audits conducted three times annually, Tamblyn said. However, the grants are spread over three years, and only begin to flow a year after the audit is completed, he said. “It takes four years to get the funding for the first year,” he said. Overall enrolment in its college and university-level programs rose 9.5 per cent in March over the same period last year, while applications for the fall semester are already up by almost seven per cent, Tamblyn said. “It’s possible we will have a similar increase in the fall as we did in the winter,” he added. Tamblyn said the province is dedicating another $200 million to colleges and universities next year through its “Reaching Higher” plan. “The concern is whether the enrolment growth will outstrip the money provided,” he added. In the meantime, the college will draw from a $6-million reserve. “At the point where you are out of reserves, you have to work with the ministry and come up with a plan on how you get out of (deficit),” he said. “But we are not there yet.” Tamblyn said colleges have been encouraged to maintain growth or risk losing funding. Georgian College is experiencing growth in its college and degree programs in Barrie and Orillia, and apprenticeship programs at its Midland campus.


Wilson sees red over Green Energy Act

Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson had some harsh words for the provincial government and its proposed Green Energy Act. The new piece of legislation, which could be approved in three weeks, is designed to focus on the creation and use of green energy sources and renewable fuels. One of the plans is to focus on community energy sources such as wind farms, which the government says will save money. According to the Green Energy Act Alliance, the legislation will provide lower cost energy to Ontarians. "Evidence submitted to the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) hearings show that a green energy powered electricity system with a greater emphasis on conservation and efficiency would be at least 11 per cent less expensive, and potentially as high as 32 per cent less expensive, than the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) proposed Integrated Power System Plan (IPSP)," maintains the Alliance. Wilson disagrees. The former energy minister, who introduced competition into the marketplace, said wind farms and solar energy would end up costing more than nuclear power and clean coal technology. He said the government should be re-investing in the province’s energy plants. "If this was such a great thing, I’d have done it 10 years ago," Wilson said. "The Liberal government has managed to take the same action we did – making it easier for private sector risk takers to invest in Ontario — and use that to completely undermine a competitive market for energy in Ontario. It’s a price fix act." According to greenenergyact.ca, the legislation will see 100 mega watts of renewable, distributed electricity generation within the next 5 years, $100 million of investment in renewable energy, creation of jobs and more energy dollars – about 75 per cent – staying at home. Wilson suspects that many of the jobs will be short-term construction jobs and not long-term employment. "Some communications guy in the backroom pulled that number out of a hat," Wilson said of a proposed 50,000 jobs being created through the legislation. "You’re going to pay a huge amount of money for a small amount of eventual bang." Under the legislation, municipalities will have little decision-making power when it comes to provincially funded green energy projects. At Monday’s council meeting, Counc. Norman Sandberg suggested that the municipalities should have no say if the province is going to give them a little amount of say. Wilson said Premier Dalton McGuinty is trying to prevent NIMBYism, but in many cases, he is taking away the rights of residents to have a say into what is happening in their community. "If I were Premier McGuinty, I would be worried by Bill 150, the Green Energy Act," Wilson said. "As an Ontario consumer and taxpayer, I am frightened by it." Wilson said the municipal politicians would feel the brunt of the government’s decisions. One of the renewable fuels included in the plan is ethanol. Despite the act, Collingwood Mayor Chris Carrier said it likely won’t impact the town’s public nuisance charge application against Collingwood Ethanol. "It’s clearly been stated by the MOE that this facility is creating an adverse effect to the community," he said. "It will have zero effect."


Another breakthrough in cold murders

Police have made another breakthrough in a 41-year-old murder investigation with local ties. Using facial reconstruction technology police in 2006 released busts of the remains of two men found naked and bound in rural areas in the late 1960s. One of the bodies was found in a farmer’s field on the 17th Sideroad near the 3rd Line of New Tecumseth. Relatives of a young man, who had been missing since the late 1960s, recognized the bust and called police. Now relatives of the second victim have come forward and that body too has been positively identified. The first breakthrough came late in 2006, shortly after the release of the busts. Family members of a teen, who had been missing since 1967 provided DNA samples, and the remains found near Schomberg were positively identified as belonging to Richard Hovey. Police believed Hovey’s murder was connected to another unsolved homocide near Coboconk, Ontario. The identity of the second victim was  announced yesterday. It belongs to Eric Jones, who was also reported missing from Toronto in 1967. The body was discovered by a hunter in Balsam Lake Provincial Park later that year. "It’s huge. Now that we have the victim (Jones) we can now start filling in the blanks," said OPP Sgt. Pierre Chamberland. Police originally linked the two murders because of the similarities of the crime scenes. Both bodies were found naked, with bound wrists. Hovey’s body was found with his wrists tied together by a shoelace. When Jones’ body was found, there was a three-metre length of twine tied in a noose near his wrists. Along with the similar nature of the deaths, Hovey and Jones are also connected by similar circumstances – both were living in downtown Toronto at the times of their disappearances. Hovey, who was about 17 at the time of his disappearance, had moved to Toronto from Fredericton, N.B. to pursue a music career, police said. He was last seen getting into a Chevrolet Corvair with a muscular black man. Police are now hopeful that people who knew Jones will come forward with more information about him. Police also say the murders could be linked to a similar one in Markham in the late 1970s. The bones of a man were found in a wooded area there in 1980. The body, which was found with clothes nearby, was believed to have been there for a couple of years. The remains of that man are still unidentified. Police say the three murders are similar to two solved cases from 1967. That summer, two young men were picked up in downtown Toronto, and taken to rural areas where they were attacked, police said. One man was found dead, while another was still alive when he was found in a field near Barrie. James Henry Greenidge was convicted for manslaughter and attempted murder in those cases. After serving about 10 years in prison, he was released. He moved to western Canada, where he was later convicted in the rape and murder of a woman there. He is currently serving a life-sentence for those crimes, but is now eligible for parole. Police have called Greenidge "a person of interest," in the Hovey-Jones murders. "He was an active sexual predator in 1967 that lived in downtown Toronto," said Chamberland. Anyone who has any information about the victims or the case is asked to call police at 1-888-310-1122. -With files from Metroland North Media and Torstar