January 29, 2014

Erin storm clean-up could take until May

As published in The Erin Advocate

It could take months for the Town of Erin to clean up the mess from December’s ice storm, Council learned last week.

“A lot of the branches are frozen into the ground, so it could drag into May before it is all cleaned up,” said Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck.

He said the storm has cost Erin over $75,000 so far, including contractors to supplement staff, and that more costs are expected. At a January 13 meeting asking Ontario to declare Erin a “disaster area”, seeking funding from the  Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program, costs were estimated to run up to $200,000.

“Mother Nature hit us hard over the Christmas holidays, wreaking havoc with roads and power,” said Mayor Lou Maieron.

He offered council’s thanks to Town and Hydro One staff who worked extra hours and sacrificed family time during the storm, saying they had “gone above and beyond their call of duty to ensure the safety and comfort of others”.

Van Wyck said road obstructions have been top priority, and those would not be completely cleared until this week. They are aware of major damage in parks, but have not gotten to them yet.

“This is ten times worse than the April 2013 ice storm,” he said.

Staff will go up and down every road, dealing with tree limbs on public property, or calling in electrical workers when needed.

Credit Valley Conservation is asking area residents not to put tree debris in the Credit River or other watercourses, since it could become part of a jam downstream and increase flood risk, both now and in the spring.

The County Waste Facility at Belwood was planning to accept residents’ brush materials at no charge until January 31, but this has been extended until the end of April.

The mayor said the Town has been looking for a way to help residents deal with branches from private property more locally, but no solution has been determined.

Wellington County is doing an analysis of its storm response, and the Town of Erin will follow up with one of its own.

“We had some difficulties, so let’s be better prepared next time,” said Maieron, noting concerns about getting information out to the public.

Council held three Emergency Meetings during the storm to keep up to date on developments. The Erin Fire Hall was providing water to those who needed it, and warming stations were made available at Centre 2000, the two fire halls and the municipal office, with the help of the Red Cross.

The pump at the Town’s Glendevon Well House burned out, requiring emergency replacement. Erin Radio was off the air for some time due to a problem with their generator.

Information from the Ministry of Natural Resources on how to care for ice-damaged trees is available at www.haltonhills.ca/TreePruning/informationSheet.pdf.

No volunteers to review council pay

As published in The Erin Advocate

No members of the public have responded to newspaper ads seeking volunteers to help review the pay of Erin politicians.

“I’m surprised, with all the public comments I get saying you are paid too much, or not enough,” said Mayor Lou Maieron at the January 21 council meeting.

Instead the CAO and Finance Director plan to survey similar municipalities to check pay levels and methods of reimbursing expenses. They will make recommendations to councillors, and a report on the issue may be circulated for public comment.

Councils generally set the remuneration for those who will take office after the next election (October 2014), so they are not seen as directly voting on their own pay. The current council has been getting annual increases that match those given to staff.

Station Street referendum gets no council support

As published in The Erin Advocate

A proposal from Mayor Lou Maieron for a referendum question on how to repair the Station Street bridge and dam in Hillsburgh got a resounding “No” from Town Council last week.

Actually, fellow councillors said nothing when he read his motion, meaning that there was no seconder and no debate.

“I have tried, ladies and gentlemen,” said the mayor, crumpling up his motion paper.

He was asking that staff investigate the requirements to add a question to the October 2014 ballot about the controversial bridge and dam, “to provide limited repair options to be considered, so that the voters in the Town of Erin can have a direct voice in a very significant issue with potentially serious financial ramifications for the foreseeable future”.

The cost of rehabilitation, including full rebuilding of the road and bridge, is over $2 million, whether the mill pond is maintained or not. Maieron has suggested the cost could be much lower if the pond is allowed to revert to a river, and a large culvert is used instead of a bridge.

Credit Valley Conservation generally supports removal of dams when possible, but a special committee including local residents has recommended that the pond be maintained. The Town owns the bridge, the road and the earthen berm of the dam, but the pond and the water control structure are privately owned.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has allowed temporary repairs to the earthen berm due to safety concerns, but has demanded that the Town come up with a permanent solution by June this year, including any required environmental assessments.

The Town has failed to get funding from senior governments for the work, and the mayor says it is difficult to ask taxpayers throughout the Town to bear the cost of borrowing $2 million, especially since the pond is surrounded mainly by private property.

This project, which has been on the Town’s priority list for 40 years, will be discussed at budget meetings in March.

No extra funding for Celebrate Erin event

As published in the Erin Advocate

A request from Erin’s CAO for $2,500 in additional funding for the Celebrate Erin event in April has been turned down by Town Council.

Kathryn Ironmonger had proposed a limit of $6,000 for the 2nd annual event, which honours community volunteers and raises money for the local food bank. That included $3,500 in seed money from last year’s event, the value of staff time to support it, which council had previously approved for 2014.

Mayor Lou Maieron had championed last year’s event, stressing that no tax money was being used for it, so he opposed allocating tax money this year.

He was supported by Councillor Deb Callaghan in opposing the motion from Councillors Barb Tocher and Jose Wintersinger. Councillor John Brennan was absent, so with a 2-2 tie the motion was lost, according to council rules.

East Wellington Community Services will still operate the fundraising aspect of the event. 

Ironmonger was concerned that the plan to charge lower ticket prices this year would result in lower revenue, making it harder to cover costs.

Budget deliberations to start with 3% tax hike

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin CAO Kathryn Ironmonger has directed Town staff to come up with an initial draft budget for 2014 based on a 3% tax increase.

That’s a big change from last year’s budget process, which started with a wish list budget requiring a 32% increase for the Town portion of the tax bill, which was whittled down to a 15% increase.

The first budget meeting is set for March 5 at 7 pm, with presentation of both an operating and capital budget. A public meeting, similar to one held last year, will also be held to explain the budget before it undergoes final changes and approval.

Council also hopes to approve for the first time a Five Year Capital Plan that schedules future major projects according to priority, without approving actual expenditures that are decided year by year.

Angelstone noise called ‘beyond unacceptable’

As published in The Erin Advocate

Neighbours of the Angelstone Tournaments facility on County Road 50 have told Erin Town Council that the business has damaged their quality of life, with events that combine equestrian competitions with an outdoor nightclub.

“My neighbours and I have been besieged by constant excessive noise,” said Nancy Gilbert, describing 10 event weekends last year. 

“On event days, the loud speakers go from 7 am until dusk. On Thursdays and Saturdays, the music starts after the events and continues until past 2 am. Even with the windows closed, the noise blares through my house – we cannot sleep.”

The business has grown quickly since 2010, from a relatively quiet horse farm to a major destination for training and international show jumping tournaments with evening entertainment. They intend to reduce their noise impact with shorter hours, fewer events and better sound control, but the neighbours remain skeptical.

Angelstone says it has invested millions of dollars to create Canada’s second most significant show jumping venue, after Calgary’s Spruce Meadows.

Now the company is applying for a zoning amendment that would recognize the extent of the enterprise. That includes: competition on 35 days between May and October; the sale of merchandise, food and alcohol; and events with 200-400 competitors, 350-700 horses, parking for 1,200 vehicles and attendance of up to 3,000 spectators, according to a report from Planner Sally Stull.

A Public Information Meeting about the application will be held on February 20 in the council chambers. Before that, council has directed staff to write a report for them explaining the growth of the business.

A statement from Angelstone regarding the complaints says: “Any issues that are brought to the company’s attention can either be eliminated through an effective action plan or mitigated to lessen the impact on neighbouring residents.”

Angelstone says it “has been a community leader in promoting job creation and tourism growth in the Erin region”, estimating $4.5 million per year in tourist spending. Gilbert is doubtful about the local benefits and would like to see more evidence.

“The Grand Prix events on Saturday evenings attract many of the world’s top show jumpers, including multiple Olympians representing over 8 different countries,” said Angelstone Vice President Ryan Clermont. “Admission and parking to the Grand Prix events is free for all spectators.”

“We firmly believe property values will follow the trend of similar venues and ultimately cause the property values in the surrounding community to rise,” the company says. “It is the sincere hope of the board of directors that the positive impacts far outweigh the negative by a significant margin.

“In 2013 we addressed noise concerns by narrowing our operating hours from 8 am to 11 pm, excluding five nights of operation where an acquired noise exemption allowed us to finish at 12 am.” Police were on the scene a few times early in the 2013 season to deal with noise complaints.

Company President Keean White, a well-known equestrian competitor, appeared before council last September and obtained an exemption from the noise bylaw until midnight for their final event of the season, after promising to cut back the sound and work with neighbours to resolve complaints. 

Gilbert says there has been no consultation with neighbours since then, but Angelstone says it has complied with the Town’s requirements and in 2014 will working “to further reduce volume levels throughout the day by refining the output path of the public address system”.

Their schedule has only five major events for 2014 – one per month in June, July and October and two back to back in August. 

The two August events are to include Super Saturdays, with high-intensity lighting that will “turn night into day”, Angelstone says, “creating an atmosphere for spectators that will be unforgettable”.

Gilbert does not doubt that, but says: “Angelstone has pushed the envelope and gone over the top with their new advertised attraction”, and is critical of them for not consulting with them about their plans. 

Angelstone says the special lighting on the two evenings will be directed into the ring of their stadium only, hundreds of metres from the closest residence, and will be off by midnight.

Gilbert presented supporting letters from six neighbours, including one who opposed “even more light pollution to dim the night sky”. Another at the meeting said the noise last year was “beyond unacceptable”.

“There is no link between equestrian events and the need for outdoor concerts or spectacles,” said Gilbert. “There is no need for a nightclub to be on site.”

Angelstone says the intention of adding music in their dining pavilion is to create a social event that combines sport, dining and entertainment. 

In addition to noise, the neighbours are concerned about heavy traffic, especially at the single exit from the site. Angelstone says it plans to hire off-duty police officers for its peak Super Saturdays to ease traffic problems.

Residents have complained about Angelstone customers trespassing on their properties. The company says it intends to build a fence to deal with the issue.

There are also concerns about effluent from manure piles. The company estimates that its manure output after five weeks of horse showing is about the same as that produced by 25 cows over 52 weeks. 

“We feel this amount is standard in a rural farming operation; and we intend to keep its removal a priority,” they said.

Gilbert would like to see an agreement worked out between the Town, Angelstone and the neighbours, similar to that of the Halton Place equestrian facility in Halton Hills.

The Angelstone statement says they “intend to work closely with the Council, our neighbours and our community to encourage productive dialog that addresses concerns in order to reach effective solutions.”

Friends of Terra Cotta promote park’s benefits

As published in The Erin Advocate

Inspired by a successful trail project at Island Lake near Orangeville, the Friends of Terra Cotta (FOTC) is hoping to increase public interest in their natural “jewel” just south of Erin.

“We want to showcase the park’s best features and promote the benefits of environmental activism,” said Annette Graydon, chair of the volunteer citizen group.

Located on Winston Church Boulevard, Terra Cotta Conservation Area is part of a 1,900 acre protected zone that includes Silver Creek Conservation Area and sections of the Bruce Trail.

“It is our flagship, our jewel in the Niagara Escarpment,” said CVC Director Judi Orendorff, one of several staff members on hand to provide encouragement and information for the group. “It is envisioned as a key park because of its wildness. We need to make things better for visitors, and local community involvement is key. We really need to pick up the pace.”

New features this year are the Outdoor Amphitheatre and the Sugar Shack, which will provide more opportunities for entertainment and education.

The Friends of Terra Cotta has been operating the family-oriented Haunted Forest event at Halloween each year, to raise money for park projects and help boost awareness.

Membership in the group is advertised as a volunteer opportunity on the CVC website, www.creditvalleyca.ca. It can include helping out at “Landscapes for Learning” environmental education events at the park, and at various volunteer work days that help restore and protect the natural environment.

They also have regular meetings to make plans and provide feedback to CVC staff. I have been involved with some of their activities in the last few years, and found them to be a very friendly and interesting group. To find out more, contact Annabel Krupp at akrupp@creditvalleyca.ca.

FOTC has been impressed with the work of the Friends of Island Lake near Orangeville. That group led the effort to raise close to $1 million in donations and grants, with substantial volunteer labour, to construct a series of bridges and lookout posts for a lakeside trail which opened last year.

The Terra Cotta group will be participating in a “visioning” exercise, trying to set goals for an identifiable project or signature events that can help market their park.

Terri LeRoux, Executive Director of the CVC Foundation, said building excitement around goals is key to getting other community groups and corporations to make donations of time and money.

“If you don’t feel that fire in your belly, you’re not going to sell it to the funder,” she said.

The conservation area already has many trails, and there has been some discussion of improving some of them while closing others. While providing interesting trails for avid hikers, there are also opportunities to provide a nature experience for older seniors and disabled persons.

The area long ago abandoned intensive recreation facilities such as campgrounds, a huge swimming pool, a mini-put course, and before 1954, a dance hall.

“We took it back to nature,” said Senior Lands Planner Eric Baldin, noting that staff are looking at ways to make better use of existing structures on the property. There is also the possibility of expanded or improved parking lots.

The area now promotes hiking, wildlife appreciation, fishing and education programs at the Watershed Learning Centre. For many recent immigrants, Terra Cotta is their first exposure to Canada’s natural beauty.

There’s also a large picnic field and shelter, next to a naturalized wetland and boardwalk. Improvements in recent years included a new gatehouse, more interpretive signs and a Welcome Centre with washrooms. Water flowing from the ponds has been re-channeled to enhance the natural conditions.

“Protection is still the top priority, followed by appreciation and recreation,” said Lands Planner Laura McDonald, describing the Management Plan which is available on the CVC website.

CVC Education Manager Andrew Kett said thousands of participants benefit from the Terra Cotta environment each year though programs for both students and teachers, and weekend programs for families. These build not only knowledge, but beliefs and values about nature that can lead to volunteer action.

“Enhancing ecological literacy is the heart of the program,” he said.

January 22, 2014

Health Link helps patients with complex needs

As published in The Erin Advocate

A new effort to ensure that seniors and patients with complex problems don’t “fall through the cracks” of the health care system has been announced for rural Wellington.

A Health Link partnership will be led by the Family Health Team in Mount Forest, but it will be of equal benefit to residents of Erin, Hillsburgh, Rockwood and the rural area served by the East Wellington Family Health Team (EWFHT).

“We can do better with the health care dollars we are provided,” said EWFHT Executive Director Michelle Karker. “There are areas where we know we are lacking. There will be local coordination of records and we will look at all the services that are needed for a patient to be healthy.”

That includes not only treatment from doctors and nurses, but needs such as transportation, in-home support for housekeeping and personal care, addiction treatment, mental health counselling, support groups and video consultations via the Ontario Telemedicine Network.

“Health Links break down barriers for Ontarians, making access to health care easier and less complicated,” said Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, announcing the Wellington initiative. “By encouraging local health providers to work together to co-ordinate care for individual patients, we’re ensuring our highest needs patients – seniors and those with complex conditions – get the care they need and don’t fall between the cracks.” 

Complex patients represent up to five per cent of Ontario’s population, but use two-thirds of the health care budget, so efficiency in treating that group can help the entire system. 

Joan Fisk, Chair of the Waterloo Wellington Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), said the new Health Link for rural Wellington will make a “significant difference”, by providing “one coordinated care plan that reflects their entire health situation.”

Family Health Teams are already working in partnership with organizations such as the Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), but the goal is to provide more comprehensive service and smooth transitions. 

Health Links bring together professionals in a given geographic area, including primary care providers, specialists, hospitals, home care, long-term care and community agencies. At the time a patient has contact with the system, it will be an opportunity to see what other services they might need.

The plan is to reduce avoidable emergency department visits and unnecessary hospital admissions and readmissions, provide same day or next day access to primary care, reduce referral time to specialists and home care, and reduce the number of Alternative Level of Care (ALC) patients – those taking up acute-care beds in hospitals while they wait to be discharged to other facilities. 

A recent study found that 75 per cent of seniors with complex conditions who are discharged from the hospital receive care from six or more physicians and 30 per cent get their drugs from three or more pharmacies.

A patient my still need to be seen by several doctors, but the plan is to have a common database of information on each patient, so that procedures such as X-rays and blood tests won’t be repeated unnecessarily.

“Patients need the health care system to respond quickly and seamlessly to their health care needs, especially those with complex conditions,” said Susan Eng of CARP (formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons). 

“Health Links is a major step towards a much needed comprehensive approach to care. CARP has called for a One Patient model – a comprehensive, well-coordinated, and integrated health care system that is easy to navigate and considers the full spectrum of health care needs as people age.”

If a patient lives in the Wellington territory but has their family doctor or specialist in another area such as Georgetown, Guelph or Orangeville, it is intended that there will be a seamless sharing of records among Health Link centres so that information is available to every health provider that needs it.

While the Health Link has been approved, the Ministry of Health will still need to approve a business plan to ensure that all the details have been worked out.

“Health Links present an exciting opportunity to collaborate and work together with our community health partners, including primary care, to put patients first,” said Liz Ruegg, President and CEO, Headwaters Health Care Centre. “This enhanced model of care will ensure higher-quality of care and improved access for our communities.”

Allan Alls wants to be Erin’s mayor

As published in The Erin Advocate

With hopes of bringing in a new atmosphere of respect and cooperation at Town Hall, and attracting new businesses to Erin, Allan Alls has entered the race for mayor in next October’s election.

“My strength is my ability to work with people,” said Alls, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years.

“I don’t plan to run the Town – that’s the CAO’s job,” he said. “It’s council’s job to provide policy and guidance, and not to hire consultants for everything.”

Alls is the president of the East Wellington Community Services board of directors, with his term ending in September. He operates a Re/Max realty business on Main Street in Erin.

He was a pilot in the Canadian Air Force, flying CF-100 fighter jets, then worked for Air Canada from 1967 to 2004. He was in leadership roles both with the pilots’ union and in management as a senior director, helping coordinate the merger of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines.

He said the current state of “dysfunction” at Town Council shows the need for change.
“We have to respect one another and put our best foot forward. You value what the other person has to say and you try to come up with a consensus,” he said. “We could do business a little better. We need to treat the public like they are the bosses.”

When faced with different needs in various sectors of the Town, he said he would “look at what’s best for the community as a whole”. 

If elected, he intends to get out of the real estate business, and he intends to stay in office for only one four-year term. Municipal and school board elections in Ontario will be held on October 27 this year.No other candidates have registered yet, and incumbent Mayor Lou Maieron has not announced if he will run for re-election.

When asked about his lack of experience in elected office, Alls said it could be an advantage by providing a fresh approach. He said if elected he would try to spend one day per week at the mayor’s office so taxpayers could drop in and talk to him.

By declaring his candidacy early in the year, Alls said he hopes it will provide time to listen to the concerns of Erin residents, and to encourage people with similar values to run for council seats.

Regarding new housing growth, he said, “It’s not our choice – the province mandates growth. We can’t bury our heads in the sand – it’s going to happen. We need to get involved to control it as best we can.”

He said the Town should try to avoid having to defend its development decisions at the Ontario Municipal Board. 

As for whether the existing urban areas should have sewers, he’s not ready to take a definite position until more information is available on the costs and options.

He said he is concerned that many young people cannot afford to live here, that businesses are struggling and that too large a portion of the tax revenue has to come from residential ratepayers.

He is in favour of the Town offering financial incentives for businesses to locate in Erin.“If we don’t get more businesses in here soon, it’s going to look like Marsville,” he said.

Regarding possible improvements to recreational services, he said, “with limited resources, there’s only so much you can do.”

Anyone interested in putting their names forward in the October election can download a 2014 Candidates’ Guide at www.mah.gov.on.ca.

Small towns need consistent funding

As published in The Erin Advocate

Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott has taken up the fight of small municipalities to get adequate funding for infrastructure from the provincial government.

The Progressive Conservative member accuses the Liberals of unfairly cutting back regular funding and making it harder to get grants to cover major projects. He recently wrote to Jeff Leal, Minister of Rural Affairs, about rejection of funding for the Station Street Bridge in Hillsburgh.

“Your Ministry’s decision is completely unsatisfactory,” he said. “There are significant structural concerns with the dam and a hazard assessment identified a high hazard potential should the dam collapse.”

He pointed out that the bridge “has been identified by the Credit Valley Conservation Authority as a safety concern and by the Ministry of Natural Resources as an item the Town of Erin must deal with by June 2014. Town staff have informed me that they are not certain how they will be able to proceed with the project without assistance from your Government.”

The province said other applicants with critical projects had more challenging conditions “as measured by property assessments and incomes”.

Towns that raise taxes and borrow for infrastructure are more likely to get grants, apparently an attempt to keep the provincial deficit under control.

Arnott has also said that cuts to core funding through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) amount to “downloading by stealth”. From 2012 to 2014, Wellington and its local municipalities are getting about $1.7 million less, with province-wide funding being scaled back from $598 million in 2012, to $550 million this year and to $500 million by 2016.

The Ministry of Finance says: “The OMPF phase-down was part of the Province’s agreement with municipalities in 2008 to upload social assistance benefit programs as well as court security costs off the property tax base.

“Despite the phase-down of the program, the combined benefit of the OMPF and provincial uploads will continue to increase, with uploads more than offsetting the reduction to the program.”

The uploading of costs benefits the county, but not local governments. Erin’s OMPF allocation dropped by $65,400 in 2013 but only by $3,300 for 2014. Some municipalities in Wellington lost well over $100,000 for 2014, while others had increases.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) says the transition formulas “have not and will not be responsive to changing social service and police costs. The scale of OMPF cuts will be magnified by 2014 OPP wage related cost increases of approximately $25 million in 2014. Tax increases or service reductions are likely in all corners of the province.”

A letter to Premier Wynne from Bill Vrebosch, Mayor of East Ferris (near North Bay), which was included in a recent Erin meeting agenda, expressed disappointment with administration of the $100 million Small, Rural and Northern Municipal Infrastructure Fund.

“We have all put a great deal of effort into this process but obviously the consultations were a complete waste of everyone’s time and energy. We are back to the hat in hand / lottery system for the distribution of funds. This is a total disregard for the input of the municipalities of this province.”

His municipality has reduced its reserves, borrowed money for the first time for roads projects and raised taxes more than the rate of inflation for five years.

We have been doing all that has been asked of us by the Province and more yet we continue to be shut out of infrastructure funding.

“We are trying our best to be creative and innovative in our approach to our planning in an attempt to become financially healthier and move towards greater sustainability in the future. Now we can say that we, together with AMO and most of the other municipalities, are not even being listened to. We continue to ask for a source of sustainable infrastructure funding for all municipalities.”

January 15, 2014

Horse power could boost Erin economy

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town Council has given initial support to a report from the Equine Task Force, recognizing the horse industry as a major economic development engine for the local economy.

Councillors will decide in their upcoming budget deliberations whether to spend money to expand this existing strength, promoting the Town as the GTA’s Equine Playground, or the Gateway to Horse Country. 

The Task Force is recommending that $134,000 be spent this year on economic development coordination, marketing, communication and trail development, with possible 50% funding from the provincial Rural Economic Development program.

The plan is to increase capital investment and economic activity, which would boost municipal revenue from business taxes and fees. The goal is to reduce the burden that now falls to residential taxpayers from 89% to 86% within five years.

The volunteer-based project started with the former Economic Development Committee (not currently operating), as a Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) study of the Town’s agricultural sector. That was narrowed to the more manageable parameters of the equine sector. Council allocated $8,000 to the effort in the 2013 budget. 

The mandate of the Task Force was to create a list of local equine businesses and riders, develop and conduct a survey on the strengths and weakness of the local industry, and make recommendations to council to improve Erin’s economic outlook.

Ninety in-person interviews were conducted with a cross-section of business people and riders, on average 90 minutes in duration, which generated over 1,000 recommendations.

There is no official database of existing businesses in Erin, but the Task Force estimates there are almost 400 equine properties in the Town: about 143 equine businesses, 108 support services and 140 hobby farms.

Equine businesses provide about 750 local jobs (384 full-time), and generate an average of $72,000 in gross revenue each year, for a total of $18 million in Erin. Most equine locations operate two or three separate enterprises, and about half of operators earn 100% of their income from horse business.

Task Force Co-Chair Mary Venneman said, “We are not suggesting that equine be the only economic driver, but since there has been no economic development to date, we believe that this is a good place to start in creating a model on which future business for Erin can be analysed, measured, and moved forward through community consultation.”

She presented a petition of 200 names  to council in support of the following statement: “Because of the large number of horses and horse businesses that are located in Erin and contribute to the local economy, I believe the Town of Erin should have and Economic Development Strategy that recognizes and supports the horse industry.”

Councillor John Brennan, who was on the Task Force, said “it makes sense for Erin to capitalize on our natural assets, especially heading into the 2015 Pan Am Games where international equine competition will be held in neighbouring Caledon.”

Council passed a resolution on December 17: “Council recognizes that actively pursuing economic development is critical to ensuring a sustainable and equitable tax revenue base for the future. Council acknowledges that the equine industry is a major economic contributor in the Town of Erin, and Council adopts the equine industry as one of the first economic engines for the Town.”

A related private on-line enterprise called the Erin Equine Community Directory has been established by Janice Byer. It will offer listings and ads for related businesses, including feed, coaching, photography, apparel, supplies, construction and waste management.

“We can all benefit from a strong local network that connects expertise and resources,” said Task Force member Margaret Godson. Go to www.erinequinecommunity.com. or contact jbyer@equinewebdesign.ca for more information.

The report says, “We propose the idea of a trail hub to create Erin as the centre with trails radiating out to destination spots within a few hours ride such as event facilities and neighbouring communities (i.e., lnglewood, Cheltenham, Fergus, Elora) much like the spokes on a bicycle wheel. 

“Complementing the trail system would be a hitching post and trailer park centrally located so that riders can safely leave their horses and vehicles while they visit Erin. The fairgrounds would be an ideal location and offer a revenue stream for the Agricultural Society should they be willing to enter into a partnership.”

Task Force Co-Chair Brian Gentles said that council needs to think about a possible municipal fee for horse riders on local public trails, which would go towards the costs of maintaining the trails.

“They have to build themselves up as a positive, contributing neighbour to all these other people using the trails,” he said.

Mayor Lou Maieron said, “If we are going to maintain or expand our trail system, at some point we need to look at some money. If we have volunteers doing work, that’s tremendous, but there’s the capital cost of supplies.”

The Task Force envisions an investment of $500,000 in economic development over five years, with a payback in benefits over 6.6 years. They are hoping for a 10% increase in property values due to expansion and 200% due to new construction.

Horse properties are being lost closer to Toronto due to urbanization.

“Erin is appealing to riders not only for its proximity, but also for its natural setting, rural charm, established equine infrastructure and a strong equine community,” the report says.

“Equine is one of the few industries open to Erin that can generate economic  development without unduly changing the local landscape and character. The equine industry has the ability to generate more tax revenue – across all tax revenue classifications – than any other industry.”

Horse businesses include breeding, sales, training and conditioning. There is a competitive sector, with events, shows, racing and rodeos. There is riding instruction, with lessons, coaching and camps, plus boarding and trail rides.

Support services include clinics, judging, feed and hay, tack, clothing, facility maintenance and tourist accommodation such as bed and breakfast facilities.

New private infrastructure could include facilities for events, workshops, training and auctions.

The largest rider group is women in the 40-59 age range, with an average household income of $150,000. Most plan to continue riding for 20 years, with 75% riding at least once per week, and 20% every day.

Provincial tax squeeze touches a nerve in Erin

As published in The Erin Advocate

Small towns like Erin are feeling a tax squeeze as the provincial government cuts funding for local budgets and makes it harder to qualify for special grants to fix bridges and roads.

I asked Erin Finance Director Sharon Marshall about the recent denial of $2 million in funding for the Station Street Bridge, with the province saying that other areas had greater needs “as measured by property assessments and incomes”. It seems I touched a nerve for the treasurer, who has been dealing with provincial funding for 28 years.

“Is the Province saying that 7 of 8 Wellington municipalities (including the County) did not receive approval – because our ratepayers are too ‘wealthy’, using assessment and average family incomes as their statistical justification?” she asked. “If that one statistical measurement is the means for future grants, that is potentially scary to Erin.”

The Town has just finished its Asset Management Plan, which forecasts the need to raise an extra 2.5% of local tax money annually for 20 years, and to borrow an average of $824,000 annually for the next 10 years, to meet infrastructure goals (not including sewers) without any grants. 

Marshall said that plan would be a better measurement of funding need than Erin’s average property assessment ($447,783), or the average family income ($96,876). Erin homeowners pay an average of $5,222 in property taxes. That 5.4% of family income, and Marshall says it is “ominous” that the province considers this in the normal range, with room to expand.

Towns that are willing to raise taxes, draw down reserves and borrow significantly for new infrastructure are more likely to get provincial grants. As of December 31, the Town of Erin owed a relatively moderate $2.89 million, much of it for the new Hillsburgh Fire Hall, and has received no infrastructure grants since 2009 ($2.67 million). Without grants, that debt could reach $8.78 million by 2020.

“It seems that the Provincial government is saying that local municipalities have the debt servicing capacity to replace and add to our infrastructure without Provincial funding,” said Marshall. Erin’s current cost of debt servicing is 8% of local revenues, but the province suggests this could be allowed to rise.

“They imply that we do not have ‘challenging’ enough economic conditions. I think our local property tax payers, and our Asset Management Plan, would prove otherwise.

“It seems to me that the Provincial government has made the decision that local debt, and local taxes need to increase. It seems that the tax burden is being downloaded and the local municipal government is taking the blame.

“Maybe small rural Ontario politicians need more clout. After all, food and materials that benefit all Ontarians are trucked through Erin (ie water, gravel, fill, car parts, food and milk). The tax burden to supply all Ontario, including large urban centres like Toronto and Mississauga should not fall on rural Ontario landowners and small business operators.”

Erin’s high property assessments mean that residents are already paying a disproportionate share of County taxes compared to several other Wellington municipalities.

The province also recently announced the amount of money each municipality will get through the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, the primary program by which Ontario supports municipalities. Erin will get $585,800 this year, down slightly from $588,600 last year. 

“We were getting $654,000 in 2012,” said Marshall. “The loss of $65,400 in 2013 impacted the tax rate by approximately +1.4%, and that impact is still there.”

It’s part of an Ontario-wide reduction, which is offset by the province uploading (paying for) expensive items like social services and court security, which had been downloaded to municipalities by previous governments.

That takes a huge burden away from Wellington County ($4,487,500 this year alone), which gets 55% of local tax revenue. This does not directly help the Town of Erin, but if the County uses “uploading” to reduce their tax rate, Erin residents will get some relief.

Last year the county increase was 2.4%, while the Town had a 15% increase and education was down 4.7%, producing an overall increase of 4%. Local councillors, who only control 20% of the tax pie, find a “blended” increase is easier to justify.

County staff have suggested a 2.8% tax hike in 2014, but both Mayor Lou Maieron and Councillor Ken Chapman have urged County Council to trim it lower. “We can do better,” said Maieron.
In Halton, where there has been significant business and residential development, and more assessment growth than anticipated, regional taxes will decline .4% in 2014.

January 08, 2014

Murray McEwen appointed to Order of Canada

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin resident Murray McEwen has been appointed to the Order of Canada, recognizing his contributions to the food industry and sustained commitment to community support.

As a business executive, and by contributing his time and money to worthy causes, he has met the standard of the Order, which is to enrich the lives of others and make a difference to Canada.

In 1993, McEwen retired as President and CEO of Redpath Industries, and Managing Director for North America of its British parent company. In 1992, Tate & Lyle North America had sales in excess of $3 billion, and about 6,000 employees.

It was a successful career for a country boy who was kicked out of McGill University in his second year, studying Animal Husbandry and Economics. He attributes his 37% average in the first term to the distractions of “sports and women”.

He repeated the year and went on to graduate in 1953 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. He would later chair a campaign in the 1970s that raised $7.2 million for the Macdonald Stewart Complex, home to McGill's Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and in 2007 he was honoured with a Distinguished Alumini Award.

In 1993, he received an Honourary Doctorate from McGill. It was presented by University Principal David Johnston, who is known today as His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

He will once again thank McEwen for his service, when he presents him with an insignia as a Member of the Order of Canada, at a ceremony later this year.

Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation, by people in all sectors of society. The insignia is a stylized snowflake of six points, with a stylized maple leaf at its centre, and a  crown above the motto, desiderantes meliorem patriam, which means “They desire a better country”.

“Companion” is the highest level of the Order, for national pre-eminence or international service; the “Officer” level recognizes national service, and the “Member” level recognizes outstanding contributions at the local or regional level or in a special field of activity.

The Governor General announced 90 new appointees last week, ranging from hockey broadcaster Dick Irvin (a fellow McGill grad), to Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor of the band Blue Rodeo, film director Sarah Polley, TV Ontario host Steve Paiken and fashion journalist Jeanne Beker.

Appointments are based on recommendations from an independent 11-member council headed by Canada's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin. In November, they considered 300 nominations, which had been researched by a team of analysts.

McEwen noted that only a few of those appointed to the Order are celebrities. “The vast majority of them are just ordinary farm folk like myself, who did something in a community,” he said.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Ormstown (southwest of Montreal), McEwen worked his way through school at the local Green Giant plant. When he graduated, they hired him, and he earned a reputation for getting things done.

He moved to New Annan, PEI and worked five years for Seabrook Farms, managing construction and operation of a frozen vegetable plant. Opened in 1961, it was the province’s largest food processing company and is now part of Irving’s Cavendish Farms.

Eventually he moved his family back to Quebec and got a management job, initially with St. Lawrence Sugar. In 1975, he accepted an offer to become president at Redpath, a major Canadian firm with sugar refineries in Montreal and Toronto. In 1980, the Montreal plant was closed and production was shifted to Toronto.

Tate & Lyle, the global company that owned Redpath, discovered the sugar-based no-calorie sweetener sucralose in 1976, and worked with McNeil Nutritionals to create Splenda. McEwen was involved in getting approval for that product from regulatory agencies in Canada and the United States.

As a leader in the industry, he also maintained relationships with sugar producers including Cuba, and had several occasions to meet and talk business with Fidel Castro.

“He was quite a philosopher,” said McEwen. “I am proud to have known the man – he has a warm spot for Canadians.”

In addition to his corporate work, McEwen found time for community business, including service as a school trustee in Bedford, Quebec where he lived for 18 years.

With food editors at Canadian Living Magazine, he helped establish the Breakfast for Learning program that promotes better learning through good nutrition. The program raised money to support local initiatives, and by the time he retired as chair of the board, there were some 8,000 schools involved.

He moved to his home on the Second Line of Erin 30 years ago, and was active for many years as a member of the Erin Tennis Club and a regular skater at the Erin arena. While proud to be part of Erin, he has been disappointed in its slow pace of economic development.

It's a great community, with tremendous potential, but we can't make progress without a friendly atmosphere for business,” he said.

His wife Eleanor was a long-time supporter of the Upper Credit Humane Society. After she passed away in 2008, he made a substantial donation in her memory that enabled the organization to refurbish and expand its shelter facility in Brisbane.

He had opportunities to travel in the Canadian north, the US, Europe and Africa, and became concerned about the problems associated with unsafe and scarce water.

He served on the board of the Grand River Conservation Foundation, raising funds to support projects of the conservation authority. He made a contribution to set up the McEwen Clean Water Prize, which the foundation awards to a student with a strong interest in the protection, development and restoration of clean water resources.

“It seems logical to support students who may pursue something in which you share a passion,” he said.
At the University of Guelph, where he had served on the Board of Governors, he established the Murray McEwen Safe Water Bursaries.

These support six U of G undergraduate students in Water Resources Engineering and the Ontario Agricultural College, studying solutions to water shortages and new methods of removing disease-causing bacteria from drinking water.

At his alma mater, he set up the Murray and Eleanor McEwen Clean Water Scholarships, with a preference for studies related to Canada's northern lands, or that are of direct benefit to Canada's First Nations.

Seizing the day an elusive goal

As published in The Erin Advocate

Every time I go to a funeral, I resolve to take more control of my life and live it to the fullest, having been reminded that it may be over on very short notice. 

Within a few days, however, it seems I am back to my regular self, living cautiously and taking things for granted.

Such was the case this holiday season, when went to London to visit my wife's cousin Daryl, who found out in November that he had pancreatic cancer. He died on Christmas Day at the age of 50, leaving a great void in the hearts of his family and friends.

Resurrection seems a long way off, as we struggle to carry on.This was all in the midst of the ice storm, which was a minor inconvenience by comparison.  We had our power restored on the afternoon of Boxing Day, after five days of scrambling to stay warm. Everyone has their stories – some lost power for only a few hours, while others were out for over a week.

I would like to apologize to everyone for the disruption. For the past 29 years, we have had a wood stove in the basement. We haven't used it much in recent winters though, and our insurance company considered it an expensive risk, so a few months ago I took down the chimney and retired it.

While winding up my rechargeable flashlight in a cold, dark kitchen, I had a frightening thought. By disconnecting my stove and failing to buy a generator, maybe I had actually caused the ice storm. It doesn't take much to convert an unfortunate coincidence into a jinx.

Not all of our luck was bad though, since we still have a fireplace in the living room, and we are experienced campers. It's just that it is a lot of work to stay warm and well fed. The thrill of living in pseudo-pioneer style wears off rather quickly.

We did not have a lot of firewood, so I ended up scrounging in the garage. Scrap wood has been piling up there for a few years, and finally I had motivation to cut it up – with a handsaw of course, which provided exercise to keep me warm for a while.

We accepted invitations from people with power (electrical) to come over for dinner (or a shower) and we were not in a big hurry to leave. We'd get home in time to stoke up the fireplace and climb under three layers of blankets on a futon next to the Christmas tree.

Getting up in the morning when the living room temperature was down to 5°C was hard, but that was balmy compared to the office, which was 0°C.

Our back yard was quite a sight – it looked like a small tornado had ripped through our trees, covering the ground with branches and leaving sharp broken sections sticking up towards the sky. It's great for photography, but it looks like I'm going to have to stimulate the economy by buying a larger chainsaw.

Many thanks to the Hydro crews who worked long shifts and gave up family time, and to everyone who reached out to their neighbours to offer help. Nasty weather even creates new social opportunities, bringing together people who might not otherwise have met.

If climate change predictions are correct, we may have these opportunities more frequently in the years to come.

As a final note, I have made only one New Year's resolution. I have cleaned the piles of junk off my desk, and they are going to stay off. Henceforth, the only pieces of paper on the desk will be the ones I need at that very moment.

January 01, 2014

Liaison Committee views needed in SSMP Report

As published in The Erin Advocate

In the strange parallel world of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), the action seems to go around in loops rather than a straight timeline. That’s all fine and dandy, as long as one does not expect anything to actually happen.

There was a huge interest in the sewer issue last spring, with lots of people at public meetings wanting to have input.

With talk of an expensive decision being made soon, there was support for an election referendum on whether to proceed with further environmental study. This, however, was considered too complicated to put into a single question.

Plan B was to set up a committee with broad community representation to give Town Council advice on how to proceed. But then they asked, why set up a community committee when we already have one?

Plan C was to add representatives of two citizen groups to the SSMP Liaison Committee, and it would become more directive in its functioning. Twice I urged councillors to specifically change the terms of reference, so the committee could report directly to them, but that did not happen.

Sure enough, when the committee met in December, BM Ross Consultant Matt Pearson said he had no mandate to change the committee’s function. So we looped back to the old routine, rehashing events from years gone by and feeding bits of information to the members that they would somehow transmit to the broader community.

Never did he ask the members what they thought about how things were going or what recommendations the study should make to council. It was never his job to do that.

Committee members who were expecting to have serious input could well feel cheated. I think the technical term is “bamboozled”.

To their credit, new members Matt Sammut of Concerned Erin Citizens (CEC) and Roy Val of Transition Erin, along with Mayor Lou Maieron, did pepper the consultant with questions.

Sammut said the SSMP has to fit into a proper Strategic Plan, which the Town has not finished developing. As usual, the idea of looking into alternative technologies was deferred to a future post-SSMP stage of environmental assessment.

“We can’t stick it to the people,” said Sammut. “First we have to make sure it’s fiscally responsible.”

BM Ross has reported that a traditional gravity based sewer system (very expensive and disruptive) could be Erin’s best solution. Val said it is important that “all viable wastewater solutions” be considered.

He also pointed out that the possibility of a “Big Pipe” now being investigated by BM Ross, to dispose of sewage via Peel Region treatment facilities, with discharge to Lake Ontario, is specifically prohibited by the Wellington Official Plan.

Member Bob Wilson noted that having a treatment plant would actually limit development, because if Erin got permission for a Big Pipe, there would be no limit.

“This process has been developed ass-backwards,” said Mayor Maieron. “If we wanted a sewage treatment plant, we should have focused on that.”

Pearson reported that an unnamed person at the regulatory level had said to him, “The people of Erin do not get to decide how big they’re going to be.” Pearson said if Erin wants to deviate from the provincial policy that favours sanitary sewers, it will have to have a convincing business plan.

By this spring, the SSMP is expected to report the maximum urban population that the West Credit River can support, along with new financial and hydrology analysis. Pearson is trying to negotiate the highest possible sewage and population limits for Erin’s urban areas, based on new river data from Credit Valley Conservation.

There won’t be another big public meeting until after council decides whether to move forward with some sort of wastewater system. That meeting will be to explain the decision, not to ask anyone’s opinion on the matter. Opinions will still be flying, of course, but the people who will have to pay the costs could end up feeling like spectators rather than players.

There is no consensus on how the Town should proceed, so anyone who wants to influence the process needs to figure out what they realistically want, and communicate with their elected councillors.

I think the members of the Liaison Committee, who have endured four years of meetings, should have the privilege of stating their views in a brief letter. That batch of letters should be included in the SSMP Final Report, just for the record.

Celebrate Erin moves to April

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Celebrate Erin event will be moved to the second week of April this year, as part of Volunteer Week, Town Council has decided.

The event was held for the first time last March, with awards presented to various volunteers, and items auctioned to support the East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) Food Bank.

EWCS President Al Alls told council recently that his organization would handle the fundraising part, but that the Town would also need to be involved in helping organize the event.

Councillor John Brennan said he hoped the event would maintain its positive energy, but overcome some of organizational problems encountered in the first year.

“We want to make it as accessible to the community as possible,” he said. There was discussion about getting more volunteers in attendance, reducing ticket prices and offering snacks instead of a full dinner.

Town to investigate fill moratorium

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin councillors continue to hope that the provincial government will bring in new regulations to control fill dumping, but in the meantime will investigate a temporary ban on the practice.

After a lengthy series of questions and comments from members of the public at a special meeting last month, council directed staff to investigate the feasibility of imposing a moratorium on the placement of fill on Town-controlled land. This is in addition to the ongoing review of the site alteration bylaw.

Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck gave a presentation showing how trucks making fill deliveries are causing serious problems for Erin’s already narrow and fragile gravel roads, including damage to ditches and entranceways, illegal dumping and contaminating the road surface with mud.

“These operations have very little regard for the mess the are leaving,” he said, noting that truckers are blatantly ignoring posted load limits, putting old bridges at risk.

“If one of these bridges falls down because of the heavy loading of these trucks, it will fall on the taxpayers and council to repair the bridge – unless the truck is caught and falls into the creek,” he said.

He said the Town has no authority to stop a moving vehicle, and that it has been difficult to get the OPP involved in this type of enforcement.  He said the Ministry of Transportation has one enforcement officer stationed in Waterloo to cover a large territory.

Van Wyck said that for landowners, the propect of getting paid $50 to $60 per truck load of fill material “often clouds their judgement / awareness of the quality of material they may be receiving.”

Fill affects drainage, he said, because impermeable clay is often placed on top of land that used to allow water to filter through. There is little control over silt and erosion, with potential damage to fish habitat in cold-water streams due to run-off.

Joe Spiteri said he is alarmed that thousands of loads of fill can be placed without any requirement for chemical sampling.

Van Wyck noted that the Ministry of the Environment has no definitions of what constitutes clean or contaminated fill. It does not require testing of material excavated from city development sites, nor a record of where it has been transported.

Resident Dave Dautovich said the Town had failed to “show leadership” on this issue, and said people expect them to work with conservation authorities to protect the land. He suggested a moratorium on fill dumping until an adequate system is devised.

Planner Sally Stull provided a map showing that much of Erin’s geography, especially including low-lying land near wetlands, creeks and rivers, is regulated by the conservation authorities, not the Town’s bylaw. She has noted that enforcement is the real issue, since virtually no one placing fill is applying for a permit to do so.

Mayor Lou Maeiron, who represents Erin on the Credit Valley Conservation Board of Directors, said no one seems to be applying for fill permits from CVC either.

Councillor John Brennan said he would prefer a system in which the Town would regulate fill projects like it does building projects, with the conservation authorities providing comments or objections when sensitive lands are involved.

The local group Citizens Against Fill Dumping has urged the provincial government to bring in consistent regulations on fill, to avoid the risk of contaminated material, to ensure that neighbours are notified of major projects and to provide a protective approval process.

Van Wyck cited one case in which the so-called “Qualified Person” at a firm transporting fill kept soil records that the MOE discovered were “incomplete, inadequate and inaccurate”.

He said MOE standards for cleanup of contaminated sites should not be used for municipal bylaws. Those standards indicate the amount by which pollution must be reduced on dirty sites, not the maximum to which clean sites can be polluted.

“In terms of groundwater, once contaminated it is very difficult and expensive to restore,” he said.

“Short term economic gain does not outweigh the cost of potential long-term environmental liabilities. Therefore, what is the net gain for the town and its citizens in allowing these operations to take place?”