May 27, 2015

Joe Kelly looking forward to new retirement challenges

As published in The Erin Advocate

Joe Kelly is not sure what he will do next, but he knows he will be working in the service of others – as he has done for the last 14 years as pastor at St. John Brebeuf Church in Erin.

He is retiring in June at the age of 80, returning to the Spiritan community in Toronto where he lived and worked after coming to Canada from Ireland in 1967.

“I’m happy to be able to move on to new things,” he said. “I’m going to look for a job. I’d like to minister to the abandoned and work for the disadvantaged.”

Fr. Joe Kelly CSSp
(Photo by Kellie Angerilli, principal at St. John Brebeuf Catholic School)     
Moving to Erin in 2001 was a major transition, since his previous work had been as a teacher, guidance counselor and chaplain at Neil McNeil High School in Scarborough. Instead of retiring, he learned how to run a parish, live on his own and appreciate the benefits of a small town lifestyle.

“The wonderful thing about living in a small town is that you meet the same people over and over, and you get to know them,” he said.

Kelly grew up in Dublin and worked for the Bank of Ireland from 1953 to 1960. He felt called to a religious life, however, and eventually was ordained with the Spiritans, a congregation within the Roman Catholic Church that dates back to 1703.

The previous pastor at St John Brebeuf, Fr. Gus Arthurs who passed away in 2001, was also a member of the Spiritan order, which has priests and other members in 57 countries, serving in parishes, schools, health care facilities and refugee assistance programs.

In 1967, Kelly was expecting to go to Kenya, but ended up being assigned to the mission in English Canada, and studied to become a teacher in Toronto. With his banking background, he initially taught business and computer programming, but later moved into religious education and counseling.

“I learned how to engage with young people,” he said. “It takes patience, but kids want to engage and respond, and I am amazed at how perceptive they are.”

Students at St. John Brebeuf Catholic School (next door to the church) can certainly attest to Fr. Joe’s interest in their development. He visits the school constantly, knows all of their names and has given strong support to parish youth programs, including an annual retreat.

Adults in the parish and beyond also have many stories of how he has shared his time and energy to make personal connections. “Sometimes you have to make an extra effort,” he says.

For my own family, Fr. Joe was a great support when my son Thomas died, three years ago this week. We are grateful that he took the time to learn about the situation and find the right words to say at the funeral.

Working with him as a musician, I admire his singing ability and his dedication to the liturgical traditions of the church. And after hearing at least 650 of his homilies, I also appreciate his passion for the scriptures and social justice.

With many good memories of his time in Erin, he has particular praise for his colleagues in the Ministerial Association.

“One thing that is special about this place is the way the churches work together and people cooperate,” he said. A retirement dinner is being held for Fr. Joe on Friday, June 5 at Centre 2000.

As with other caring professions, the life of a minister often involves making strong friendships, and then moving on. Sometimes, however, the paths of life can cross again unexpectedly.

Such is the case with our new pastor, Fr. Ralph Diodati. I knew him as a dedicated priest and a friend of my family when I was a high school student in Hamilton. I haven’t seen him in almost 40 years, so I am looking forward to welcoming him to Erin.

May 20, 2015

Property tax rebates deplete Town revenue

As published in The Erin Advocate

When Erin politicians get tired of complaining about the property assessment system, which forces us to pay higher county taxes, they can turn their attention to a variety of other alleged injustices inflicted by the provincial government.

There’s the ever-popular “infrastructure deficit”, in which municipalities have built way more stuff than they could ever afford to maintain, especially with residents forever fantasizing about less taxation.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario estimates that actually fixing all the roads, bridges, sewers etc. would cost $60 billion. If property taxes alone were to maintain existing obligations, plus eliminate this deficit, the AMO estimates that municipal taxes would have to increase 19% per year for 10 years.

So do we let some of our infrastructure crumble, and ultimately make do with less? Do we pay up through higher taxes and debt charges? Do we invite private enterprise to wave its magic wand? Like good Canadians, we’ll probably compromise and do a little bit of all of that.

Faced with a problem that cannot be solved within the term of one government, the province just chips away at it. They dole out infrastructure funding erratically and upload some of the costs previously dumped on municipalities, but it is never even close to enough.

Erin is at a disadvantage in this game, being labeled a wealthy community. We have low debt, high taxes and very little income from industry. We have lots of farms and natural areas, but the tax revenue they could generate is severely curtailed by provincial policy.

The latest complaints at the Erin council table have been about the 75% property tax reduction the Town is required to provide for qualified farmland (846 properties) and managed forests (117 properties), as well as a 100% exemption for 721 pieces of conservation land.

Farmland qualifies for the rebate if it is actually farmed, generating at least $7,000 in gross income per year. Farm residents still pay the regular rate on their homes, plus one acre, but obviously their fields do not use municipal services. With farmland values increasing faster than residential values, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is lobbying for a larger percentage reduction.

The benefit used to be a rebate paid by the province and shared through income taxes. It started in the early 1970s when farmers were being hit hard by huge increases in the cost of education – another service not used by the land.

The Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris did download many costs to municipalities, but it also assumed a greater share of education costs and took over setting education property taxes. These remain a much lower share than they once were, now just 17.2% of the Erin tax bill, with a 0% increase this year.

When Harris shifted the farm rebate to municipalities in 1998, provincial grants were supposed to cover the cost, but they now only cover about one third. Throughout Wellington County, that is lost local tax revenue of $25.5 million per year, at a net cost of $487 per household.

Finance Director Sharon Marshall estimates that if the province took back responsibility for the rebates and Erin could charge regular taxes on all property, the Town tax rate could decline by 11.6%.

Mayor Al Alls says city dwellers are reaping the benefits of protecting the water, air and local food production, but that the burden of supporting the system falls unfairly on rural municipalities.

“It’s a big hit on our budget ­– we’re paying for it,” said Alls, noting that a large share of electoral support for the Liberal government comes from large urban centres.

“The current provincial government doesn’t get their power from us,” he said at a recent council meeting. “Nothing’s going to change until that changes.”

May 13, 2015

Mayor says wastewater essential for economic growth

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Al Alls continues to push for an Environmental Assessment (EA) of wastewater options, saying that sewer service is essential for economic growth.

He provided an update on economic development initiatives during a breakfast meeting for local business people on May 6 at David’s Restaurant.

“We’ve changed our idea of economic development in Erin and we want to do more,” said Alls. “We all need to work together – there’s no one route.”

Economic Development Coordinator Bob Cheetham has brought together a 14-member advisory committee to develop a 4-year Action Plan. Community focus groups will have a chance to provide input before it goes to council for approval in July.

“It’s a pretty aggressive plan to move forward, but we need to get moving on it,” said Cheetham. The mayor has been promoting a more helpful approach by Town staff, and said council wants to hear from people with ideas for investment or improvement to the Town’s service to businesses.

Calling wastewater the “elephant in the room”, Alls said council will make a definite decision on proceeding with the EA in June, which is expected to cost $200,000 per year over three years. He said the town has been “stymied” in its development, and that a plan is needed before senior governments will consider providing the essential funding of at least 66%.

“It is money well-spent in my opinion,” said Alls. “It is a gamble, but if you don’t take that first step in the journey, you’re not going to get through, and you’re not going to get this town to grow. We want it to grow – not to go crazy, but we need it to grow.

“Erin has been stalled, and we want to get it going. I want to make Erin the economic engine for Wellington County.”

On hand at the breakfast to promote Wellington County’s commitment to economic growth were Warden George Bridge, CAO Scott Wilson and Economic Development Officer Jana Reichert.

The County has developed an Economic Development Strategy and Sector Investment Profiles. They are actively recruiting new investment by Canadian and international firms, as well as supporting expansion plans for existing businesses.

They have an on-line business directory, promote a wide range of festivals and events, publish profiles of local businesses and have provided a grant of $25,000 to support Erin’s economic development activities.

Bridge said Minto has dealt with some of the same challenges facing Erin and has succeeded in boosting commercial and industrial assessment by more than 10%. They have programs that provide business plan advice, mentors and an incubation program for entrepreneurs. There is also a plan to attract “alumni” – people who grew up in the community and might want to move back and set up a business.

Cheetham showed off the banners that Erin now uses at public events, promoting the town as a destination and a place to live, with a thriving economy. He has been working with the Business Improvement Area, the Chamber of Commerce and Headwaters Tourism (no longer “Hills of Headwaters”).

He said Erin will soon be part of the Headwaters Parade of Horses, a series of 25 outdoor fiberglass horse sculptures painted in a whimsical fashion by various artists – like the moose sculptures of a few years ago in the Toronto area. There will be one at McMillan Park in Erin village and another at Century Church Theatre in Hillsburgh.

With 400 horse farms, Erin wants to to highlight this major base of business during the equine events in Caledon and Mono that are part this summer’s Pan-Am Games.

May 06, 2015

Lions walk supports dog guide program

Some of Erin’s finest fundraisers will be straining at the leash when their dogs take them for a walk on Sunday, May 31. The Erin and District Lions Club is hosting its first National Dog Guide Walk on the Elora Cataract Trailway, starting at Centre 2000.

There will be swag bags for the dogs in attendance and a free barbecue for the human participants. Sign in starts at 11 am and the walk is at 12 noon.

Organizer Wendy Parr says the idea is to create a fun social event, to raise money and inform people about the training of dogs to support people with various disabilities.

The goal is to get at least 100 walkers and raise $25,000 – the amount it takes to train one dog for its special duties. All of the funds will go directly to the training of dogs, which are provided at no cost to qualified applicants by the Lions Foundation of Canada.

For more information, go to Click on “Find a Walk” and then to the Erin page, where people can register, make an immediate donation or create a team.

Registration can be done at the event as well, and you don’t have to have a dog to go on the walk. The plan is to walk to Winston Churchill Blvd. and back, a round trip of about 4 km, but participants are welcome to do a shorter section if they wish.

More than 200 similar walks are happening on the same day across Canada, a tradition that started 30 years ago. Parr had attended the one in Fergus in previous years, and had often thought it would be great to organize one in Erin.

With the support of the Erin Lions, she has been busy promoting the event to local businesses and schools. Helping her is Bonnie Gagnon, a local foster mum for prospective guides, currently caring for Garbo, a 9-month-old black lab.

Prior to their formal training, puppies are sent to foster families who house-train them, teach them manners and basic obedience, expose them to many different situations and get them used to the distractions of public areas such as streets and malls. Nestlé Purina PetCare donates all food and the Lions Foundation covers routine veterinary expenses.

For nearly 100 years, Lions Clubs around the world have supported projects to prevent blindness, restore eyesight and provide eye health care. The Lions Foundation operates a dog training centre in Oakville, plus a breeding and training facility in Breslau.

The program started out with only canine vision dogs, but now has expanded to include hearing ear dogs for the deaf, seizure response dogs for those with epilepsy, service dogs for other physical disabilities, autism assistance dogs and diabetic alert dogs.

Once fully trained over two years, the dog is matched with its handler who then spends one to four weeks at the Oakville facility, learning how to handle, trust and bond with their new Dog Guide. Breeds commonly used are Labrador Retrievers, Poodles (for those who are allergic to most dogs) and Golden Retrievers.

The trained dogs give their handlers the confidence to navigate obstacles in public areas and help them pursue education, careers and community participation.

More information about the work of the Lions Foundation is available at