March 26, 2014

Hillsburgh could be left out in sewer plan

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town of Erin will be restricted to 6,000 residents on sewers, after a review of data on the West Credit River’s ability to safely absorb the discharge from a sewage treatment plant.

The long-awaited number, set by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) on behalf of the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), was announced at a public Town Council workshop last week. It could permanently limit total growth in Erin village and Hillsburgh to as few as 500 new homes.

Councillors are now being asked to narrow down their choices about which options should get detailed financial study in the last phase of the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) – including the possibility that Erin village will get servicing and Hillsburgh will not.

The option of servicing existing homes in both villages is also likely to be studied, but council is also being asked to decide very soon whether both villages will get a share of future housing growth. 

The option of giving most of the sewage allocation to developers, while leaving all existing homes on private septic systems, has been strongly discouraged by SSMP Consultant Matt Pearson of BM Ross.

The options for investigation could be chosen at the April 1 council meeting next week, as part of a schedule to complete the SSMP before this fall’s municipal election. Mayor Lou Maieron suggested there too many unknown factors to make any choices among options.

“Where do we get the basis of information to make an intelligent decision?” he asked.

Analysis of specific options by Watson & Associates will lay out the detailed costs for urban homeowners, which would become part of a combined water and sewer bill when they actually get service. In addition to a monthly fee, the bill will include the costs of construction, individual hook-up and debt interest, possibly spread over 30 years. Rural residents will not get service, and will not have to pay a share of the construction and interest charges. 

The 6,000 number is low compared to earlier estimates ranging from 6,500 to 13,500, and could dramatically restrict new housing development. CVC Deputy CAO John Kinkead warned council last May that the number would be near the low end. It was set after additional study of the river, with low flow measurements reduced an extra 10% to allow for the harmful effects of climate change and land use changes.

The number of existing urban residents has been set at 4,500 (1,400 in Hillsburgh and 3,100 in Erin village), leaving only 1,500 for new residents. At the accepted ratio of 2.83 residents per household, that would mean only 530 new homes, total for Hiillsburgh and Erin village – but only if all existing residents also get sewer service. The number could range from 500 to 600 based on housing styles.

The population cap is intended to be permanent, since the Assimilative Capacity (AC) of the river is not expected to rise, but it only applies to sewered homes. If it was decided that Hillsburgh would never get sewers, not only would the village get virtually no development, but the sewage allocation of the 1,400 Hillsburgh residents could then be given to developers to build about 500 additional homes in Erin village.

That would mean a total of 1,030 new homes, almost the number being requested now by Solmar Developments, though the number is meant to include infilling, the process of adding small numbers of new homes or apartments in existing neighbourhoods.

Dale Murray of Triton Engineering told council last week that they should be considering whether they want to reserve sewage capacity for future use, if there are no plans to use it in the early stages of the process. Pearson said, “You can’t sit on 4,500 capacity forever.”

BM Ross has also outlined other options such as piping the sewage to another municipality, which is considered very expensive. There is also the possibility of servicing Hillsburgh, but not Erin village, which is considered unlikely.

Gary Cousins, Director of Planning and Development at Wellington County, told councillors that no large-scale housing developments will be approved using septic systems.

Roy Val of Transition Erin recently organized a workshop on alternative sewer methods, including Small Bore Systems (SBS), which use septic tanks at individual homes. The effluent is sent to a smaller treatment plant through narrow pipes that do not require the road to be dug up. 

He believes both Erin village and Hillsburgh are entitled to service, and contends that SBS is not just a technology issue to be studied later, but a concept that should be cost-analyzed now, since it could change the feasibility of the entire venture.

Kinkead said new technologies would have little impact on the 6,000 limit, and that the MOE is unlikely to approve any technology that does not have a proven track record in Ontario.

If all existing residents (4,500) kept their septic systems, and all the sewage allocation was given to developers (6,000), that would add up to an urban population of 10,500. Combined with the rural population of about 7,000, that would put the entire Town of Erin at 17,500 in 20-30 years.

If not for the restrictions imposed by the river, existing lands in the two villages could support an extra 24,000 people.

Pearson also favours servicing both existing communities. He said leaving a community unserviced would cause it to decline, with businesses and community services drawn away from the core, restricted ability to redevelop vacant buildings, and no resolution to problems such as aging septic beds and holding tanks, and lack of housing for young couples and seniors.

“Servicing one community creates inequalities,” he said. “Investment in properties will decline.”

Councillor Barb Tocher said, “You’ll get two classes of people.”

Pearson has suggested the best route for a pipe to move sewage from Hillsburgh to Erin village is the Elora Cataract Trailway, estimating it could cost $2 million.

There has been discussion of a possible treatment plant at Tenth Line and Wellington Road 52 (Bush Street). CVC said last year that the ideal discharge point is further downstream near Winston Churchill Boulevard, where the river has greater capacity.

The review of costs is scheduled for a public Town Council workshop in May, followed by a choice of one of the options. Council would review a draft SSMP report that would be presented at a public meeting in July. After final revisions, council could vote on August 5 to approve the SSMP, clearing the way for environmental studies of which technologies could be used for a sewer system.

“It’s an expensive proposition no matter what gets built,” said Pearson, who believes Erin has a good chance of getting senior government grants to offset costs. He said if there is substantial housing growth, there could be extra costs for a water tower in Hillsburgh, and a second one in Erin.

He reminded council that if residents had to replace all their aging septic systems, it would cost millions of dollars without any government grants or the option to spread costs over 30 years. He said the cost of a high-end septic system required for small properties is now about $40,000.

Author not concerned about copied report

As published in The Erin Advocate

Grey County CAO Lance Thurston is not too concerned about a report of his being largely copied by former Erin CAO Frank Miele last year.

Contacted by The Advocate, Thurston confirmed that he shared a copy of the report on municipal reforms with Miele, who had “indicated an interest in my approach”.

Miele acknowledges using the report to create his own, deleting some sections, writing some new ones and altering almost all references to Grey County, but leaving most of the wording intact. He said it was a matter of efficiency, which he had cleared with Thurston, and that it is common practise among municipal officials.

Thurston did prepare a First Impressions Report for his Council in 2010.

“That report was of my own making, my methodology, my content and my writing. I have shared copies of the public report to a number of parties,” he said.

“Mr. Miele did ask me for a copy of my report. He indicated an interest in my approach. It is common practice among municipal professionals to share information, reports and other documents. He did not indicate whether or not he would be using the report as a template for his purposes.

“It is remarkably similar to the one I prepared for my Council. The degree of similarity is unusual in my experience but not a big concern to me. An acknowledgement would have been an appreciated professional courtesy given its similarity to my original.

“I have not spoken with Mr. Miele about this matter. My last communication with him was when I provided him with a copy of my report.”

Town supports speed protestors

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town of Erin councillors passed a motion of support for residents who have protested the problem of speeding drivers in the 50 kph zone near Ballinafad, on the Erin-Halton border.

The Advocate recently carried a letter from a group that has appealed to government and police officials for strategies to reduce speeding. There was a petition with 54 signatures.

Council will have its staff report back on possible options the Town could consider, and they will then forward input to others such as the county, the OPP and Halton police.

Residents are concerned that speeders are endangering pedestrians and cyclists, on a roadway with narrow shoulders. 

They are suggesting better signage, including speed display boards, increased police enforcement, increased fines for that zone, a public awareness campaign, speed bumps and installation of curbs or sidewalks.

The road north-east of Ballinafad is County Road 42 and to the south-west is 32 Sideroad, also known as the Erin-Halton Town Line.

Snow clearing delayed by unsafe conditions

As published in The Erin Advocate

A combination of soft gravel roads and blowing snow created dangerous conditions that forced a delay in clearing roads during the March 12 snowstorm, Road Superintendent Larry Van Wyck told council last week.

He was responding to a request for an explanation from resident Duncan Bull, about why many roads had not been plowed by the time people were on their way home from work.

“I was driving a co-worker home, and then myself in the vicinity of the 10th Sideroad and the 8th Line, and no plowing had been done, significantly increasing the risk of both of us getting home safely,” said Bull.

Van Wyck said the warm weather on the previous two days had thawed the top few inches of gravel roads, including the Fifth Line where a transport truck got stuck on the road and had to be towed. Erin crews had difficulty, with plows pushing large quantities of gravel to the ditches. 

On March 12, all trucks were working on hard top roads, but not the gravel roads, because of these conditions. The forecast was for blowing snow, followed by a temperature drop to −17 C later in the day.

“As the day progressed, visibility issues arose due to the blowing snow, and efforts became futile as roads were filling in right behind the plow. I had concerns about snow plows on the trucks digging into the soft gravel surface,” said Van Wyck.

“It can mean damage to the plow truck, plow and even the operator, as the truck can easily be driven over top of the plow. There was limited staff with experience in these conditions. I elected to wait until the road surface was frozen to clear the snow.”

Council rejects bid for new Centre 2000 deal

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron’s attempt to have the Centre 2000 agreement changed to a leasing deal was defeated by Town Council at its March 18 meeting.

Maieron has been a critic of the agreement for many years, saying the Town is a victim in “an unfair situation”, and that he has “a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers” to correct the Town’s spending on Centre 2000.

Others on council argued that problems can be worked out with the Upper Grand District School Board, within the current shared-use model.

Councillor John Brennan chaired that section of the meeting while Maieron made his presentation. When the question was called, Councillors Tocher, Callaghan and Wintersinger were opposed, with Maieron in favour and Brennan abstaining. The chair normally only votes in the event of a tie.

Brennan said he was open to either a shared-use or leasing arrangement, as long as service is maintained to residents.

The mayor said invoices from the Town totalling over $20,000 over several years remain unpaid, and he urged that these be resolved by June.

School Trustee Kathryn Cooper, who sits on the Centre 2000 board, was surprised at the mayor’s notice of motion.

“It’s disappointing, since we are well on our way to resolving these issues,” she said prior to the meeting.

She acknowledged that there are unpaid invoices from the Town, and she has recommended that the school board pay them. But she said there are also invoices from the school board that the Town has not paid.

Cooper said while it is costly, for example, for the Town to install a $40,000 sewage meter, it is “an investment in only paying for what they use”.

“A lease model makes sense to me,” said Maieron, claiming the existing deal is too complex.
 He is suggesting that each party own and maintain certain sections, and lease them to the other party as needed for an agreed fee.

He is particularly concerned about costs of the Shamrock Room, which was intended as the cafeteria in the original plan. He says the town is paying all of the heat, electrical, water and sewage costs for the room and the commercial kitchen, but is “stuck with” the less desirable rental hours.

Maieron is also concerned that the Town borrowed over $2 million for the Centre 2000 project. The bulk of it was for the theatre, he said, but while the Town generates little revenue by renting it out (about 30-40 nights a year), the school is making significant use of it.

Questions about the capital and operating costs of the on-site sewage treatment are also unresolved, he said.

County Councillor Ken Chapman has also been a harsh critic of the agreement. He had been on the board, representing the county’s role as the library operator. He was serving as chair of the board, but recently resigned without explanation.

Councillor Barb Tocher, who was mayor during the planning of Centre 2000, defended the shared-use concept.

“Neither party owns the shared-use portion. It’s not draw a line down the middle of the building. It’s a very unique facility – there are very few in Ontario,” she said. 

“It really doesn’t matter if the Upper Grand District School Board paid for the entire facility, if the Town of Erin paid for the cost of the entire facility. Guess what? It’s the same taxpayer.

“It’s the town of Erin that uses that facility. Very few outsiders use that facility. It’s only our children that go to that school. It’s our citizenship that uses the library. It’s our seniors in the seniors room. It’s our toddlers in the pre-school. It’s ours, all of ours.”

In a letter to the Town, Trustee Cooper praised municipal and school staff for their excellent day-to-day cooperation in running the building.

“We need to have objective measurement systems and transparency on the full costs of operations and upcoming capital needs,” she said.

“We do need to make sure the agreement is fair. But first, we must do the objective analysis to determine if it is or not. Let’s allow staff the priority time to work together to sort out the invoices and the measurement systems before deciding on next steps.”

Mayor continues push for independent auditor

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron has succeeded in advancing his idea of hiring an auditor general, or other outside expertise, to assist with a review of town operations.

Council agreed to consider hiring help for the Operational Review, with actual funding for the move to be debated in upcoming budget meetings.

Only Councillor Barb Tocher voted against the motion, with Councillor Deb Callaghan declaring a conflict since her husband is the Fire Chief and could potentially be affected by the review. 

Maieron said he thought it was reasonable to put $20,000 to $30,000 (equivalent to a half-percent tax increase) for this in the 2014 budget. 

Councillor Josie Wintersinger supported the motion, despite doubts about the suggested cost. “I don’t feel we can move ahead with that amount of money – it’s going to cost more than that,” she said.

The mayor said the amount was not much different from the cost of the Integrity Commissioner’s investigation that found him in violation of the Code of Conduct. That was expected to cost $12,000 to $15,000, but Maieron said it ended up at $18,750. He said he could have put Code of Conduct charges forward against other councillors, but did not.

“I don’t want to burden the taxpayers,” he said. “I’d rather spend the $20,000 in an operational review, so that we can see if we can do our jobs better, or we can assist staff in doing their jobs better.”

Maieron asked for a show of hands among residents attending the meeting whether they supported starting an operational review, and many hands were raised. The idea of a review was initiated last year, and while there has been internal review going on, Maieron said council has not been updated.

“I don’t believe that staff can do an operational review of themselves,” the mayor said.

Brennan noted that staff have already been taking steps internally, under the direction of CAO Kathryn Ironmonger, “towards reorganizing themselves, finding efficiencies and better uses of staff.”

Councillor Wintersinger said, “I don’t think we’re against doing an operational review whatsoever. We never have been. It’s just that we were trying to keep the taxes down. We had decided that since Kathryn had decided on her own initiative to make some changes which were for the better of the corporation, that she may continue to do it. At some time we did intend to have an operational review, but we need to have the right amount of money set aside.”

Councillor John Brennan said auditors general are more common for cities than for small towns.

“I think an operational review, bringing some from the outside periodically, is a good thing to do. I’m not sure I want to spend a lot of money to hire an auditor general who will then go out and hire a consulting company to come and do the review,” he said. 

“To me it makes more sense to cut out the auditor general and go outside and get someone to do an operational review. I’m not sure what we’ll get for $20,000 to $30,000. I would like to have some assurance that we’re actually going to get something meaningful at the end of it. We have to get some kind of report on what’s available.”

Maieron said he would be interested in hiring either an auditor general or a consulting firm to assist with the review.

March 25, 2014

Video editor strives for maximum impact

As published in The Erin Advocate

For Steve Bergwerff, it’s the creative touches that really add value and give him satisfaction when working on a video project.

The Hillsburgh native is back in town, offering video services through Ironcloud Productions, and fulfilling a dream to operate his own business.

Ironcloud involves a group of professionals that Steve can call upon to help produce everything from corporate marketing to tourism promotions, music videos and documentaries. Samples of their work are available at

Jobs often start with pre-production tasks like budget planning, script development and location scouting. Steve works with camera operator Don Coulombe on many projects, then does various editing phases and adds graphics to create a final product.

After high school, Steve initially studied art fundamentals at Sheridan College, but found he was more interested in TV and entertainment. 

He got a job as a production assistant at a company that was doing ads for big brands like Honda and Orville Redenbacher’s, which provided valuable exposure to the business. Then he decided to go to Canadore College in North Bay, where he took the Television and Video Production program.

He has since worked in DVD design and production in Toronto, and in Barrie producing episodes for specialty shows such as Snowmobiler TV, Go Riding TV and PowerBoat TV.

More recently, he’s being doing projects for the County of Wellington, including videos on the Green Legacy tree planting program, the non-profit housing project in Fergus, the Museum and Archives and safety tips from the Ontario Provincial Police. He has moved back to Hillsburgh and operates Ironcloud from  his home, boasting ten years of experience in the field.

“It’s been my dream to have this working,” he said.

Technically, he works with a collection of video shots, including interviews with people, plus audio or narrative that can play over various visuals. He combines static, pan and zoom shots, and chooses the timing to create an appealing rhythm for the work. Often, a good choice of background music will add valuable boost.

“I want to create a bit of a bullet,” he said. “I put artistic heart and soul into what I do – there’s no formula.”

By bringing some emotion to the job, he hopes viewers will not just see and hear, but feel the impact of the what his clients want to deliver. And even if a client wants to make changes after seeing the initial version, it’s still worth the effort to have made something special.

“Sometimes you have to take a risk,” he said.

March 19, 2014

Trails provide exercise and escape to nature

As published in Country Routes

Trails in the Erin-Hillsburgh area are getting more attention in recent years, as people realize their value for exercise and enjoyment of the great outdoors.

They are also recognized for their role in attracting tourists and enhancing property values in the Town.

On a combination of private, conservation and Town-owned lands, sections of the network are used by hikers, cyclists, snowmobilers and horseback riders.

Working with the Town are members of the Erin Trails Committee, an extension of the Recreation and Culture Committee (RACC). Its current project is development of the small, grassy area at the end of Church Blvd. next to Hull’s Dam, to be called Riverside Park.

“It connects with the Trails Network and will have a historical sign, picnic tables, landscaping and river observation areas, to be completed in 2014,” said RACC Chair Bill Dinwoody. The park is dedicated to the memory of Steve Revell, an active trails advocate and volunteer who passed way last year.

“Steve left a legacy of ideas for the future, which are and will be worked on by the RACC Trails Committee,” said Dinwoody. The group also organizes community tree plantings, with the next one happening at the Deer Pit behind Centre 2000, on May 3, 9 am to noon. Volunteers are needed.

The Elora Cataract Trailway, on the 1879 rail road that was once Erin’s economic lifeline, is now owned and managed by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) in this area. It is also a segment of the Trans-Canada Trail, a 21,500-kilometre recreational trail system (the world's longest).

Robert and May MacDonald of Erin have been enjoying the trailway on their bicycles for the past 20 years, and appreciate the bench that has been installed where the trail crosses the river east of Erin village.

“It’s just beautiful – there are lots of wildflowers,” said May. “We meet a lot of friendly people from Brampton and Toronto who come up to use the trail.”

Some trail users would prefer to have a loop route, but May doesn’t mind going back and forth on the straight trailway.

“We see different things on the way back,” she said. Are there any changes they’d like to see?

“A hot dog stand would be nice,” said Robert, but he’s quite happy with the maintenance, signs and parking. “The condition of the trail is good – we are lucky to have it.”

Cameron Cuthbert and his wife Andrea liked the trail so much they bought a home next to it.
“We utilize it for commuting to the tennis courts, schools, Tim Horton’s; walking the dogs, running, x-country skiing, leisure sports and socially,” said Cameron, who chairs the Trails Committee.

“I love the idea of connecting the town through trails. It creates a sense of community. I want to get people out of their cars and onto their feet. It can help the whole community being more physically fit, connecting with nature and each other. As we know this takes time, but we need a plan to execute for the future. To not do this is shortsighted.” 

The Hillsburgh Snow Roamers have also done a lot to enhance local trails, building a valuable network that is enjoyed by local residents, and which attracts many visitors.

“We are a proud club with over 40 years of improving the trail riding experience in the Hillsburgh / Erin area,” says President Gord Wiesner, on the club’s website,

“Our volunteers, members, executive and sponsors know that this is one of the best and most scenic trail riding areas in the region.”

The Elora Cataract Trailway, known as Trail B202 in the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) system, is the backbone of the local network. Other trails extend south through Brisbane, north into Hillsburgh and into East Garafraxa, with connections to another trail that runs parallel to Dufferin Road 3, linking the Fergus and Orangeville clubs.

Last December’s ice storm was a serious threat to the club, with fallen tree branches blocking trails. Credit Valley Conservation didn’t want people using the trailway, and said it would not be able to clean up the mess until spring.

Volunteers from the Snow Roamers jumped into action, in cooperation with CVC, so pass holders would still be able to enjoy the season, with higher than normal snowfall. They put in over 554 hours of work, and were able to open the trailway by January 19.

Another group that values trails and would like to see more of them is the horse-riding community. Horses are allowed on sections of the Elora Cataract Trailway, except in the spring when the trail is too soft and wet.

The interest was highlighted in the Equine Economic Development Report presented to Town Council last December, which advocates improvements to riding infrastructure.

“Bringing more riders to the area will intensify demand for equine services and while here, increase patronage of other services as well,” the report says. “Increased demand will lead to expansion of existing and new services, which foster expansion and new development, contributing to increased property tax revenue.”

The report points out that trails are relatively inexpensive compared to other infrastructure.
“Trails greatly increase the appeal to riders, and with opportunities shrinking within the GTA, Erin is positioned to be the closest location for GTA riders. 

“Already there are numerous informal trails intersecting the Town of Erin in all directions. 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 (local arenas, Angelstone, Palgrave and Orangeville to name a few) and neighbouring communities (lnglewood, Cheltenham, Fergus, Elora) much like the spokes on a bicycle wheel.

“Complementing the trail system would 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.”

Phil Gravelle is a freelance writer and a member of the Erin Trails Committee.

Most of reform plan by CAO Miele was copied

As published in The Erin Advocate

A confidential plan to reform Town of Erin operations, which former CAO Frank Miele discussed with council on the day he was fired last May, has been made public by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPCO).

It has also come to light that the document was not written primarily by Miele, but was originally created by Lance Thurston, Chief Administrative Officer for the County of Grey, as a plan for that municipality.

Release of the document was requested by Erin resident Bruce Hood, but Closed Meeting Investigator Norm Gamble ruled last September that since a majority of Town Councillors considered it part of Miele’s personnel record, it should stay private. Hood appealed that decision to the IPCO and was recently given access.

Emergence of the two documents has sparked disagreement about when councillors learned of the copying, and whether it played a role in Miele’s dismissal after only six months on the job.

Miele admits that he used the Thurston report as a “template”. He replaced references to Grey County with Town of Erin, deleted some sections, wrote some new sections and presented it as his own. He said Thurston was a friend who had given permission for this.

“We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, especially when resources are very, very minimal,” said Miele, who recently submitted his nomination papers to run for a York Regional Councillor seat, representing Vaughan.

“I cleared it with the individual ahead of time. I said, ‘Can I use your report, and just amend it to reflect some of the local issues?’… It’s not unusual, I don’t believe.”

Thurston was away from his office and could not be reached for comment. The report is written in a casual, first-person style, which Miele did not alter. A side-by side comparison shows that less than 20% of Miele’s report appears to be new text. At the time Thurston wrote his report, Miele was CAO in Meaford, which is in Grey County.

The Town of Erin is not publishing Miele’s report. The Thurston report is available at, on their Corporate Strategic Plan page. Download with these links the Thurston Report or the Miele Report. See the related story on the financial implications of the firing, and my column on other factors

Miele was urging a series of reforms in the areas of strategic planning, economic development, branding and marketing, a revitalized web site, an operational review, multi-year work plans and budgeting, an asset management plan, community engagement, a push for service excellence, a resident survey and “a more proactive approach” to leadership development and succession planning.

“If it tells you what you need, does it matter where it came from?” said Mayor Lou Maieron.

Miele’s text notes “very low staff morale” and a poor working relationship between council and staff that he found “surprising and disappointing”. He says there are “staff behavioural issues to be addressed” and a need for more respect among co-workers and management.

“A positive work environment is negatively affected when individuals are spoken to without respecting their dignity and position,” he said in the report. Looking back now, Miele said he enjoyed his time in Erin.

“I was hoping to bring Erin to a different era of professionalism, and moving it forward, because it has major challenges before it,” he said. “I had some very clear ideas as to what I think could have taken place, but obviously I was going one direction, and council was going in a different direction, and that’s fair enough. That’s what democracy is all about.”

The mayor said Miele should have been given an opportunity to answer any allegations or concerns, especially since council had gone through a long and costly process to find CAO candidates.

“He was not given a fair chance,” said Maieron. “I thought he was doing a decent job for us. Is there anything in the report that does not promote the advancing of Erinism?”

Councillor Barb Tocher said Miele wanted the report handled in closed session, and she favoured keeping the document confidential because council did not want to “adversely affect” his reputation. 

“It has a lot of good ideas in it. It’s not that the ideas can’t be used down the road, but the document as a whole, we felt it was inappropriate to use it.,” she said, and believes the issue of copying did not affect the dismissal decision.

 “It was not a factor,” she said. “It came to council’s attention that the document was not his own, after the decision had been made. What it did was reinforce our decision, when we did become aware of it. It was very closely after, but it was not part of the reason.”

Mayor Maieron disagrees with Tocher’s statement, saying council was aware of the issue on May 7. Councillor John Brennan recalls that there were “whispers” about the issue before it became definitely known.

Councillor Deb Callaghan declined to discuss the situation, other than to say, “The report was not a factor in the whole situation.” Councillor Jose Wintersinger could not be reached for comment.

Maieron noted that the Closed Meeting Investigator had said the four other members of council considered the report a Human Resources issue, and that only he disagreed, favouring its release. He said it should not have been treated as a part of a performance review.

Councillor Brennan said it became a Human Resources issue when Miele “offered the report as part of his performance review”, even though “it was not what council was looking for”.

“It was not the content of the report, it was the deception involved in offering it,” said Brennan. “That’s the only bad thing about it. There are some points in there, where you’d say, those are things we’d like to do. If you ask me my personal preference, I would have released it the next day. It certainly would have taken a lot of heat off.”

Tocher said she had expected a report that would describe how Miele had been working towards goals set out by councillors in individual interviews. 

“He was going to do a First 100 Days Report, it was to be part of his performance review,” she said. “This is the document that was given to us, and it did not address the specific questions that we had asked of him.”

She said this was just one factor among many in the decision.

“We didn’t find him to be the right fit for the Town of Erin. That’s not to say he wouldn’t be for someone else.”

Payment to Miele affected Town budget

As published in The Erin Advocate

It appears the termination payment to former CAO Frank Miele last year forced the Town of Erin to overspend a section of its salary budget, but the exact amount remains confidential.

“Wages were $85,640 more than estimated as a result of staffing changes and HR [Human Resources] adjustments,” said Finance Director Sharon Marshall, in her synopsis of the General Government (Administration) Department in 2013, as part of the current budget process.

“I cannot provide any details on identifiable individuals,” she said, in response to a question on the issue, but she did confirm that an “HR matter” was the primary reason for going over-budget on salaries, wages and benefits in Administration.

Miele received a payout according to the terms of his contract after he was fired last May. The figure of $85,640 cannot be identified as the amount paid, since it is the net result of a department’s compensation expenditures.

“Other departments also had 2013 over-budget salary amounts (Roads and Water mostly),” said Marshall. “The 2014 proposed wage reduction is due to the ‘change’ in senior staff in Admin; vacant position in the Water Department as the Water Superintendent reviews his operations and staffing needs; and a reduction of one half a full-time equivalent to the over-all Town staffing level.”

In her published report, she notes that, “Legal costs exceeded budget estimates by $39,735 as result of additional professional fees for HR matters, Code of Conduct / Integrity policy implementation, and defence of litigation.

Overall, the Town budgeted $3.85 million for salaries, wages and benefits in 2013, but went over by 4% and actually spent $4.0 million. That is 45% of total operating expenditures, which were $8.8 million (including $1 million transferred to reserves, but not including capital projects).

The proposed 2014 budget calls for overall compensation expenditures of $3.78 million, a 1.56% reduction compared to last year’s budget.

In the Administration Department, actual compensation expenditures were $945,576, more than 9% over budget. For 2014, the proposed figure is $869,261, up only .57% from the 2013 budget.

Why was Frank fired? The details remain hazy

As published in The Erin Advocate

It came as quite a shock last May, in the small world of Erin politics, when our big name Town Manager lost the confidence of Town Council and was shown the door – while he was driving home. 

Six months earlier, Frank Miele had come with extensive credentials as a professor at Ryerson and York Universities. He had been Commissioner of Economic Technology Development and Communications for the City of Vaughan, and won prestigious awards in his profession. 

He overcame some initial doubts, since he had worked very briefly as VP at Solmar Developments, which is planning to build houses here.

It was a turbulent time in Town affairs, but Miele appeared to be doing his job. Councillors have been tight-lipped about his dismissal, but some issues are emerging.

The public release of his last report to council, and the revelation that most of it was written by someone else (see Page 1) will get lots of attention. But it appears this was either a minor factor, or not a factor at all, depending on who you ask. 

There was definitely a tense atmosphere at the Town offices, and some staff were unhappy with Miele’s management style. Whether his style was appropriate also depends on who you ask. The background problem, however, has little to do with Miele. 

There is a deep pool of resentment among many residents, over high taxes, high water rates, bad roads, not enough development, fear of development – the list goes on.

Mayor Lou Maieron has tried to be a champion for disgruntled taxpayers, so in political terms, he has a reform mandate. He has failed, however, to build support among the other councillors to achieve his vision of how things should be. The reasons for that will be debated at length during the election campaign.

Hiring Miele was the mayor’s opportunity to bring in a tough-minded economic development expert, to help meet his promise to change things at the Town. He was angry when a majority of councillors decided to fire the man they had recently hired, with no opportunity for the CAO to respond.

When asked if he thought his report, largely copied from another source, was a main factor in his dismissal, Miele said, “I don’t believe so. I think there were some issues with staff and some members of council, basically. It just did not work out.”

When told that councillors had refused to discuss specifics of his dismissal, he said, “They really shouldn’t, because it is one of those HR related issues. I showed up at the meeting to discuss that report, but after I finished the report, they asked me to leave the room. It was midnight and they weren’t calling me in, so I said to them, ‘Can I go home?’ As I was driving back home, the mayor called me, saying, ‘Council has decided to terminate your contract’. What? On what basis?”

When I suggested that the reasons for his dismissal remained a mystery to most people, he said, “I think it had a lot to do with what was actually happening during that period in time.”

At that time, an SSMP Draft Final Report had just been released. There was public concern about a possible $65 million sewage plant and 1,200 new homes from Solmar.

Miele surprised council in April when he took the initiative to bring in the Biglieri Group as consultants, who he expected council would hire to lead peer reviews of the Solmar subdivision studies.

At the April meeting prior to his firing, Miele tried to move beyond the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan process. He proposed sharing costs with developers for the next phases of the Environmental Assessment. Representatives of two developers appeared as delegations to support the motion, but the Transition Erin community group and some councillors felt the process was being “rushed”.

Miele’s recommendations were put off to the May 7 meeting. Instead of approving them, council passed a motion from Councillor Barb Tocher that decisions related to the SSMP be deferred until Council is presented with the completed final SSMP Report.

The motion also said, “Council directs staff that no further collaboration with potential developers in regard to funding or development occur without express direction from the Council of Erin.”

Miele had been saying the SSMP was 95% done, but within two weeks of his firing, SSMP Project Manager Dale Murray of Triton Engineering Services and Water Superintendent Frank Smedley were saying that significant work still needed to be done.

Was Miele’s push on development issues a factor in his firing? Miele himself suggests that it was at least an irritant in his relationship with council.

“I think that members of council were feeling that I was going a little bit too fast for what they would have preferred. When a CAO makes a recommendation as I did in the report to move forward, they can always say, ‘No’. Were there other issues? Perhaps, but only they know about it. I certainly don’t. Nobody made those clear to me.”

March 12, 2014

Mayor appeals to Premier after funding denied

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron has written a bitter complaint letter to Premier Katherine Wynne, seeking reconsideration after provincial funding was denied for restoration of the Station Street bridge and dam.

Suggesting it was a “pre-stacked” process, the mayor expressed Town Council’s “disappointment and frustration” with the Ministry of Infrastructure’s funding program for small municipalities. 

The project met the requirement that it be “critical” work to deal with “urgent public health and safety issues”. More than $2 million will be needed, regardless of whether the Hillsburgh mill pond is drained or not. Town staff have allocated $190,000 for an Environmental Assessment in the proposed 2014 budget.

The province had demanded that applicants have an Asset Management Plan in place by the end of 2013. That plan was approved on December 10, identifying Station Street as the number one priority.

The ministry rejection letter was dated December 9, “obviously without having examined our new Asset Management Plan, leaving one to wonder if the successful project applications had been pre-selected,” said the mayor.

The Small, Rural and Northern Municipal lnfrastructure Fund was designed to help towns with challenging economic conditions and limited fiscal flexibility, with special consideration for those already making significant infrastructure investments.

“It would seem impossible for the Town of Erin to be faced with a more ‘limited fiscal flexibility’ predicament than we currently are in,” Maieron’s letter says. 

“With a population of only approximately 10,500 residents, we are staring at the well documented possibility of taking on tens of millions of dollars in debt to build a sewage system, depending on the outcome of our SSMP. 

“As of our last published annual financial statements the Town of Erin had loans outstanding representing almost $3.25 million dollars in principle. To be clear, these are not operating loans, but in fact were drawn down to finance 'significant infrastructure investments' in roads construction, watermains, firehall, and recreation facilities, etc.

The Town was upset at a Ministry statement that other applicants “had more challenging economic conditions (as measured by property assessments and incomes)”.

The letter to the premier says, “There was no mention at all in your application template that the measuring stick used to judge worthiness would be either property assessments or income. 

“Had this been known in advance, the Province would have been expected to provide a ranking of its municipalities by these two criteria – with the likely result being that some of the 350 applicants could have saved staff time and money by avoiding the pre-stacked expression of interest process.

“Respectfully, we would like to appeal the non selection of our expression of interest, and would appreciate it being re-considered for financial aid.”

Town will investigate Ospringe pond deal

As published in The Erin Advocate

Town Council has requested a staff report on the Pidel subdivision at Ospringe, after a resident complained that residents are being asked by the builder to form a corporation to assume liability for the storm water pond.

The 43 landowners jointly own the pond, through their deeds and the provisions of the subdivision agreement from about 10 years ago, according to resident George Rigas. He asked to address council at its February 18 meeting, even though he had not registered as a delegation, and council agreed because he said the matter was urgent.

The Town will soon assume ownership of the roads in the subdivision, and Rigas would like the Town to also assume responsibility for the storm water management works.

“This was promoted as a lake,” said Rigas told council. “We should not be the owners of municipal sewage works.”

At last week’s meeting, Mayor Lou Maieron objected to council’s initial reaction, which was to appoint two councillors to work with staff to investigate the matter (though this was not in the minutes). He said the full council should either consider a staff report or appoint an ad hoc committee with agreed terms of reference.

“This is very complicated and outside the norm,” said Maieron. “Let’s see what’s in the agreement, and the provincial requirements, and determine how much of the problem is our problem. Maybe it is just between the builder, developer and residents. This could have serious implications financially.”

Councillor John Brennan said the matter is not as urgent as first thought. All councillors agreed to having a staff report.

The mayor said it is important to find out if all property owners are in agreement on this issue.
“With public ownership comes public access,” he said.

Rotary donates $500 for Crime Stoppers sign

As published in The Erin Advocate

Guelph Wellington Crime Stoppers got a boost from the Rotary Club of Erin for its plan to erect large signs at prominent entrances to the Town.

Members voted to donate $500 for one eight-foot wide sign, promoting Crime Stoppers’ toll-free phone number for anonymous crime tips: 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), and its website:

The donations are used directly for the signs, not as a fundraising effort, said John Svensson of Crime Stoppers, guest speaker at the Rotary meeting March 6.

“Our job is to make the phone ring,” he said.

Rotary will get recognition on the sponsor section of the sign. If other clubs also donate, there could be several signs, with logos from all the sponsors on all the signs.

The Guelph Wellington group is marking its 25th anniversary. Crime Stoppers is a partnership between the police, the media (publicizing crime incidents) and the community (providing anonymous tips, which can now be made on-line).

“Sometimes we’ve been able to recover property before the owner even knows it’s gone,” said Svensson. “Each community has different issues. Break-ins have been a problem here.”

Crime Stoppers does not use Call Display and goes to great lengths to protect the identity of tipsters.

“This has been challenged to the Supreme Court, and successfully defended,” said Svensson. There are 39 Crime Stoppers programs in Ontario, and nearly 1,000 worldwide.

Tipsters get a confidential code number. The tips are presented to the Crime Stoppers board by a coordinator, with a recommendation on the reward amount. If a tip results in an arrest or closed case, the amount can range from $50 to $2,000, depending on the value of the information, the value of materials seized, the level of risk to the tipster and the number of arrests, charges and cases cleared.

After the reward is approved, it does not need to be collected right away, and the right to collect it does not expire.

Since the local program started in 1988, it has received almost 17,000 calls, resulting in 1,463 arrests, 2,191 cases cleared, 3,958 charges laid and recovery of more than $36.8 million in property and narcotics off the street. 

Rewards for tips have totalled $148,810. Crime Stoppers is financed through individual and corporate support, not by tax dollars.

Mayor wants new deal at Centre 2000

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron wants to rip up the deal that controls the shared areas at Centre 2000, and start fresh negotiations with the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB).

In a Notice of Motion last week, he asks “that the Town of Erin consider rescinding the current shared use agreement with the UGDSB regarding Centre 2000 and that the Town work with the UGDSB to establish a new agreement based on a lease agreement based on fair market value for the facilities utilized by the UGDSB.”

His initiative could be brought forward at a future meeting. It would not be debated unless there is a seconder to the motion, and it would not take effect unless approved by a majority of councillors.

The facility is shared by the Town, Erin District High School and Wellington County, which operates the school library. Each has representatives on a Management Board, but the board is not empowered to re-write the shared use agreement. That would have to be done at a higher level among the participating entities.

County Councillor Ken Chapman was the county representative on the board and served as chair, but resigned as a member recently with no public explanation. Both he and Maieron have been critical of the agreement and how it has been implemented.

The property line between the municipal and school board lands runs right through Centre 2000, but the use and costs are shared. Critics of the deal say the Town is paying too much, because the school has become the primary user of areas like the theatre, and the Shamrock Room which serves as the cafeteria.

Lack of agreement has resulted in invoices remaining unpaid for a number of years.

The board has been in the process of trying to measure the usage and costs more precisely, in hopes of resolving issues under the terms of the existing agreement.

Ticket price lower for Celebrate Erin event

As published in The Erin Advocate

Tickets for the Celebrate Erin volunteer appreciation event have been reduced to $20 per person.

The celebration will be held Saturday, April 12 at the Shamrock Room in Centre 2000, with doors open at 6:30 pm.

Celebrate Erin started last year with more of an emphasis on fundraising for the East Wellington Community Services Food Bank, and tickets were $35. This year there will be stronger emphasis on showcasing volunteers and their projects.

“It will be somewhat simpler,” Councillor John Brennan told Council last week. “We want to make it self-supporting. We have $3,500 in seed money from last year, and we want to leave as much of that intact as possible.”

There will still be a buffet dinner and cash bar, light entertainment and presentation of volunteer awards to individuals.

Tickets now are on sale and can be purchased through the Town of Erin office or through local area organizations including East Wellington Community Services, the Rotary Club, the Optimists Club, the Lions Club and the Trails Committee. More information is available at

Town will try to decide on renting 1 Shamrock

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Town will make a new effort to decide whether to rent out unused space in its building at 1 Shamrock Road, after a year and a half of uncertainty about its future.

Councillors received a report on March 4 about the previous Erin Village Hydro building, part of which continues to be used by the Water Department, directing staff to review proposals from potential tenants for the office portion and make recommendations. Council has still not decided what it wants to do with the building.

Mayor Lou Maieron unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to the motion, including having the Water Department pay for renovations in the garage area and contacting all previously interested parties; then if there was no current interest, to offer the office space to the group promoting a Re-Use Centre, or engage a realtor to promote the property.

In a report on the issue, Finance Director Sharon Marshall said Council knew in September 2012 that the Town would soon lose Community Living (Arc Industries) as its tenant at the building, and that Erin Radio wanted to lease it. The Town has now lost $14,160 in rent and $3,800 in utility fees, based on the old lease.

Council said in 2012 it wanted staff to develop a Leasing Policy, and to consider use of the office area for the Water Department, which was already using the garage area. Creation of the new policy took until the following March and Erin Radio went to another site. The space was signed and advertised at $1,500 per month, plus $2 per square foot for taxes, maintenance and insurance.

There was a plan for renovations to make the space more attractive, but little has been done. With the industrial-zoned site not being leased, proponents of a Re-Use Centre asked to use it rent-free for a trial period. The mayor proposed accepting the re-use plan and having the Water Department move out, but he got not support.

The future of the building has been complicated by the mayor’s efforts to have urban water users pay for all Water Department facilities, including several staff reports, and by a proposal from Councillor Barb Tocher to donate the building to the Water Department. Both have been unsuccessful. Last month, council defeated a resolution instructing staff to lease out the office space.

“The uncertainty of the use of the building, and Council's indecisiveness with regard to its plans for the Water Department and the Re-use Centre proposal, have been the biggest obstacles in the efforts to lease the office space out,” said Marshall.

The Re-Use group said they would be willing to use part of the building, but were upset when they learned that there had been a company seriously interested in leasing, which would have brought the Town some revenue. Marshall said the potential tenant had some reservations, and that a deal was not reached.

“Quite simply, the property has not been leased out to date because we have not received a written ‘offer to lease’ from any party willing to pay the rental fee and utilities as advertised,” said Marshall, noting issues with condition of the property and the price, and suggesting a professional realtor be consulted. “There certainly seems to be a generous supply of office space available in the Erin area.”

“It shouldn’t have got to this point, and we’re all to blame,” Councillor John Brennan said, noting that while Council had given some direction, they had also confused the issue.

Town will be asked to restrict outdoor smoking

As published in The Erin Advocate

Smoking will still be a legal activity, but finding a legal place to do it outdoors will become a little harder if Erin Council agrees with a new push from the Board of Health.

Any local change is likely to affect Town properties such as parks and sports fields, but a ban could be extended to restaurant patios. That would be an unpleasant change for some people, but it is part of a relentless push for better health protection, which makes good sense.

Restaurants would face some disruption, but it seems likely that they would keep most of their existing customers, while attracting new ones who currently avoid patios where smoking is allowed.

Rita Sethi, WDGPH Director of Community Health and Wellness, said 93 Ontario municipalities have passed bylaws to ban smoking in various outdoor spaces, and she plans to visit Erin Town Council soon, urging them to enact their own.
“We’re doing a road show to councils,” she said. 

A bill currently under consideration in the Ontario legislature would prohibit smoking on playgrounds, sports fields and patios. It is not certain to become law, however, and municipalities are free to enact their own bans.

“The more restrictive law will apply,” said Sethi. Most people want some sort of restrictions on outdoor smoking, she said, not only to guard against the dangers of second-hand smoke, but for better role-modelling, reduction of litter and benefit to the environment.

Orangeville, for example, passed a bylaw in 2012 with a maximum fine of $5,000 for smoking on Town property, including parking lots, recreation centres, parks, skateboard-BMX facilities, town offices, police and fire stations, soccer fields, baseball diamonds and hiking trails. Sidewalk smoking is still allowed.

Local bans do not usually bring significant enforcement costs. They are complaint-based, but are intended to be “self-enforcing”, with a combination of social pressure and signs doing most of the work.

Last summer, the health unit administered a survey of about 2,000 area residents, with 94% agreeing that exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS) can cause serious health problems, and 76% believing that a ban on smoking in outdoor spaces could help protect people from second-hand smoke.

A report on the survey to the Board of Health says SHS can lead to cancer, heart disease and premature death.

“Across Ontario, many local governments are taking action to protect residents from SHS in outdoor spaces such as playgrounds, sports fields, municipal property and patios,” said the executive summary. One of the goals is to “increase motivation” for smokers to quit or cut back.

“Based on the survey findings, a complete smoking ban in outdoor spaces in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph will be recommended to local councils.”

In the survey, support was highest (91%) for a smoking ban at outdoor pools and splash pads. It was 90% for playgrounds, 84% for doorways to public places and workplaces, 75% for restaurant patios, 68% for parks, 67% for outdoor special events and 63% for bar patios.

About 20% of people in the health district are smokers. In the survey, only 41% of smokers supported any of the possible bans.

Cheyne says Erin needs vision for future

As published in The Erin Advocate

Jamie Cheyne is running for a seat on Town Council this fall, saying that the Town needs a clear vision to guide economic development over the next 20 years.

“We seem to re-act instead of being pro-active,” he said. “An Economic Development person or committee is needed.”

Cheyne has served on the Town Heritage Committee since 2005 and been the Chair for the last five years. He has also served on the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP) Liaison Committee, and would like to see more resident input to the SSMP.

“This has dragged on long enough. The town requires a better mix of housing – lower income residents or retirees, that do not want to move out of town.

“Sitting still is not really an option anymore. The province is mandating growth and in-fill, and we should not be afraid to add retail / commercial and residential growth.

“With the SSMP and the CVCA assessing the river quality, we would only be able to handle so much growth. We will not become Milton or Mississauga.

“We need a council that has respect for each other, even when there are differences of opinion. We need direction from a solid mayor, with councillors that can put things aside and make this town grow.”

March 06, 2014

Ice on lakes forcing eagles into new areas

As published in the Georgetown Independent & Free Press

Recent bald eagle sightings in the Georgetown area are likely the result of an unusually cold winter, with frozen lakes forcing the raptors to adjust their hunting patterns, according to specialists at Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

“They are opportunists,” said Christina Kovacs, a technician with the Significant Wildlife Program at CVC. “They like fish and waterfowl, but they will take anything they can get.”

The waters of Silver Creek and the Credit River can provide food for eagles, and the forested areas of the Niagara Escarpment and the Credit watershed provide other opportunities, since they will feed on the carcasses of larger animals such as deer, said Kovacs.

“These are natural corridors that help with migration, and will benefit the species in the long term,” said Scott Sampson, Manager of CVC’s Natural Heritage Program.

This is Southern Ontario’s coldest winter in 20 years, and most lakes – even Lake Erie  and Lake Huron – are largely covered with ice. Lake Ontario has open water, but heavy urban development on the north shore makes for poor eagle habitat, said Sampson.

While climate change is believed to be affecting some vegetation and wildlife territories, there is no definite link with the eagle activity, he said.

Bald eagles have been a rare sight in Southern Ontario since the mid-1900s. There is no evidence of nesting sites in Halton Hills, but there have been frequent sightings at Island Lake next to Orangeville and the Luther Marsh near Arthur.

“The number of reports is increasing,” said Sampson, noting that the first hatching of eagle chicks in decades took place at Cootes Paradise near Hamilton last year. “They are making a comeback since we got rid of DDT.”

Eagles were once plentiful near Lake Ontario, but human settlement destroyed much of their habitat, and they were hunted as a dangerous predator. Protective Ontario legislation in 1890, and the American Bald Eagle Act in 1940, helped boost their population.

It dropped again to near extinction in the 1960s with the use of pesticides such as DDT, which weakens the egg shells. The Bald Eagle was declared a provincially Endangered Species in 1973. That status was upgraded to a Species of Special Concern, in 2006 for Northern Ontario, and in 2009 for Southern Ontario.

Raptors such as the eagle and osprey prefer to build their large nests on tall, old-growth trees overlooking water, but are often willing to use poles and platforms erected for them by conservation staff.

March 05, 2014

County seeks better ambulance response data

As published in The Erin Advocate

County councillors remain in the dark about ambulance response times in their local communities, and will ask the Guelph-Wellington Emergency Medical Service (EMS) to provide more detailed monthly reports.

Erin Mayor Lou Maieron got unanimous approval last week for a motion to seek expanded data, with the request channeled through the Social Services Committee.

He said the service reports changed several years ago to show only district-wide average response times, instead of details for each municipality. EMS started stationing an ambulance 12 hours a day at the new Hillsburgh Fire Station last year, and the mayor would like to know if that has improved the service.

“Without the information, we’re sort of lost,” he said. “I’ve heard from my colleagues in the northern municipalities that ambulances are being pulled towards Guelph, leaving their communities a little bit vulnerable for ambulance service.” 

Seconding the motion was Erin Councillor Ken Chapman, who pointed out that the EMS website does not list the ambulance stationed part-time in Hillsburgh, or its schedule, as it does for other locations in the county.

“I have no idea when that ambulance comes into town or when it leaves,” said Chapman, noting his request last year for that information has not been answered. 

“I think that we are being ignored, that we are getting poor service if any service at all at times. When I see that there is more than one municipality that gets less than 24 hour a day service, that is not the way I think the people of Wellington County should be treated.”

The Ministry of Health standard is a response time of less than 15 minutes, 90% of the time. Based on all 18,380 calls in 2012, Guelph-Wellington had an average response time of 12.25 minutes, 90% of the time, according to their website.

“They homogenize it over the whole reporting area," said Maieron. "In a large urban centre like the City of Guelph, a focussed area with very little traffic time, you can generate some wonderful numbers. But when you’re dealing with the rural municipalities, the people on the outskirts, I don’t think the numbers are that good. The information is collected. It’s there. I’ve requested it numerous times in my four plus years on Social Services, and I haven’t received one piece of paper.”

Guelph Fire Chief Shawn Armstrong, the General Manager of Emergency Services including ambulance, could not be reached for comment. An EMS staff report last year said deteriorating response times have become “unacceptable” and urged Guelph council to hire 24 more paramedics and buy two more ambulances over the next four years. That decision has not bee made, but it would raise Guelph's costs by $1.4 million by the fourth year and Wellington County's costs by $950,000.

The communities of Guelph, Fergus, Mount Forest, Arthur and Harriston have 24 hour ambulance coverage from Wellington-Guelph EMS, under regular conditions, according to the EMS website. Drayton, Rockwood and Erin (Hillsburgh) have part-time coverage, plus support from neighbouring services.

Wellington North Mayor Ray Tout said he is concerned about ambulances being deployed away from his area at busy times, since it puts a greater strain on his fire department to provide initial response.

“We’re paying for an ambulance service,” he said, noting the $7.8 million contributed by the county, which covers 20% of the EMS costs. The City of Guelph pays 30% and the province 50%. “I guess what I’m asking for is communication, what services they provide, when they’re in our area. I’m not 100% sure the head office is being as up front with us as their staff is.”

Councillor Gord Tosh said while more information is needed, reports will not be identical to those in the past since they were previously generated by the provincial government. 

Wellington-Guelph EMS would not be providing call data from neighbouring ambulance services. Ambulances are dispatched into the Town of Erin from stations such as Acton or Caledon when they can provide the closest service.

Councillor Chapman said that with 12 of 15 ambulances staffed during the day, and 8 at night, “we don’t need more ambulances, we need more staff.” He added that the province should be able to supply detailed information about ambulance calls.

“They don’t want to give it to us, simply because it points out that we in Wellington County are not getting the service.”

Last year’s report by Stephen Dewar, EMS Chief for Guelph-Wellington EMS, said a growing population and the number of people with significant illnesses being discharged early from hospitals have contributed to an increase in the number of calls and the length of time ambulances are at those calls. Calls increased seven per cent per year in 2011 and 2012, well beyond the population growth.

The report said “patient outcomes” are being impacted by the fact ambulances are having an increasingly difficult time in hitting response target times. Those targets are laid out by the province, with the city setting compliance rates.

For the most serious calls requiring resuscitation, the province expects an ambulance to be on the scene in eight minutes or less. The city expects its ambulances to hit that target 65 per cent of the time, but they were actually only hitting it 63 per cent of the time.

“In 2014 we'll be looking to add more staff hours,” said Dewar. “We have some ambulances that aren't being staffed 24 hours a day. We'll also be continuing to try and use what we have as efficiently as possible.”

With files from Metroland News Services

Reorganization pitched for Recreation

As published in The Erin Advocate

A plan to trim costs while providing better service in the Town of Erin Recreation Department was to be presented to councillors this week, as part of the 2014 budget.

CAO Kathryn Ironmonger had asked Facility Managers Graham Smith in Erin and John Cunningham in Hillsburgh to come up with ways to improve operations.

The proposal includes having Town staff take over grass-cutting and maintenance at parks and playgrounds, with twice a week garbage pickup that could include the street bins in both Hillsburgh and Erin.

There would be a penalty to cancel current contracted-out services, and a capital cost for a landscape trailer and lawn equipment. 

“We will utilize the staff we currently have and work on staff scheduling to lessen the financial impact of wages to take on the extra duties,” the report says. “Our main goal is to improve service and facility levels and decrease complaints.”

Other plans include improvements to soccer fields, ball diamonds and other grounds, beyond the normal day-to-day operations.

They will be cross-training staff to work in different areas as needed, including other Town departments, to cut overtime costs.

The first draft of the Recreation Budget being presented this week shows staff costs rising 4.2% to $714,000. But lower costs in other areas, especially for Supplies, Materials and Equipment, would mean operating expenditures totalling $1.5 million, a reduction of 1.92% from last year.

Recreation revenues are expected to drop by $75,000 (8.7%) to $789,000, which means net operating costs would rise by 6.8%. When combined with an increase in capital expenditures, the overall department budget would be up 9.8%.

Arena snack bar on chopping block

As published in The Erin Advocate

The snack bar at the Erin Arena could be shut down if the Town can’t find a way to boost revenues and efficiency, according to Facility Manager Graham Smith.

In his commentary with the proposed budget given to Town Council this week, Smith said staff have been making efforts to increase sales and cut costs, but more drastic action may be needed.

“The snack bar seems to be bringing in less revenue each year, although the vending revenues are increasing,” he said. “Tim Horton’s also has impacted our concession sales negatively.”

He said council could consider trying to lease out the facility, which has a shared kitchen with the Centre 2000 lobby. The Town could also totally revise the menu and cut hours and staff, especially in the summer. The third option is to close it completely.

Stroke treatment improves in Wellington

As published in The Erin Advocate

I have recently been reading My Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist who suffered a severe stroke, but was able to recover, learn from the experience and share it with others.

The book is a riveting description of her experience, and an education in how the left and right hemispheres of the brain work differently to create our perception of reality.

A stroke is the sudden death of brain cells due to an interruption of blood flow, either due to a blood clot or hemorrhage, and can cause paralysis, speech impairment, loss of memory and reasoning ability, coma or death.

Bolte Taylor describes how the brain is sometimes able to re-wire itself to restore functions, and urges people to donate tissue in the event of their death, to enable continued research into various brain disorders. For more about the author, go to or

The severity of stroke damage can often be reduced by prompt emergency treatment. Everyone should know the warning signs and heed them immediately, even if the problem seems temporary. If even one of the following symptoms occur suddenly, do not hesitate to call 911:

- Loss of strength or numbness

- Trouble speaking or understanding

- Disrupted vision

- Severe and unusual headache

- Loss of balance

It is encouraging to see that some improvements are being made to stroke care in our area, where it is the third leading cause of death. Surviving a stroke is just the first step in what can be a long, difficult struggle.

It is projected that 870 people a year will have a stroke in the Waterloo-Wellington district. The Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), which allocates provincial health funding, says regional studies have shown that this area’s patients have experienced poorer outcomes from stroke compared to others across Ontario.

Until recently, the only district hospital with a dedicated stroke unit was Grand River Hospital in Kitchener. As of December, Guelph General Hospital is also providing this enhanced care, including clot-busting medications in its emergency department, which can save brain function in the early stages of a stroke.

Guelph will dedicate eight acute care beds for stroke patients, and serve as a “tele-stroke” site, linking the hospital to additional expertise through the e-Health network.

“This work will save lives, improve recovery times, result in better outcomes and ensure all residents have the same access to high quality care across our area,” said Bruce Lauckner, CEO of the Waterloo Wellington LHIN.

The LHIN is providing $1.16 million for new home-based care and speech-language support for stroke patients. With an Integrated Stroke Program, more patients will survive, fewer will have serious debilitation and as many as 100 more residents will return home after a stroke instead of going into long-term care.

As a result of the funding, the Community Care Access Centre will be able to provide 5,000 more home visits per year, and St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Guelph will deliver almost 5,500 visits to help survivors regain language skills.

“Through the development of a regional stroke system, including these new enhancements to stroke support in the community, we are building a system that will support each stroke patient and their family in Waterloo Wellington to achieve their goals and maximize their recovery,” said Marianne Walker, chair of the Waterloo Wellington Rehabilitative Care Council.