council-full-ap27by Anne Finlay-Stewart

Between the two-hour in camera meeting and the regularly scheduled main event, city councillors mingled with a few of the almost two hundred city volunteers who had gathered outside the council chamber for the annual appreciation event.

The regular meeting began with a moment of silent reflection, but likely for the last time. The city has received legal advice on the recent Supreme Court decision about prayer before municipal meetings and have decided to err on the side of caution and remove even silence from their agenda. As this represents a change in a procedural by-law, it requires a public meeting (May 11) and a new by-law (May 25).
The National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job is April 28, and will be recognized throughout Grey and Bruce. Representatives from the Labour Council and Public Health brought sobering details of the personal and economic impact of workplace injuries.
More details of quarterly First Friday events in downtown Owen Sound were brought to council, beginning with Fresh Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. May 2. The evenings are intended to enhance the customer experience in our downtown businesses with music, food, specials and other enticements.
Council approved Francesca Dobbyn's appointment to the DIA board until 2019 because maybe she was looking for something to do with all her leisure time.  Or wants to represent the folks who live above the stores.
The CP Rail station on the east side of the harbour is going to get some more attention in preparation for a long-term lessee. Some work will be city infrastructure – sewers and such – and some will be parking lot, landscaping and patio (makes you curious about the lessee, doesn't it?) the cost of which will be recovered over the term of the lease. The City's intention in buying the heritage train station from CP was always to find a tenant who would be a catalyst for further waterfront development.
Back to the exciting world of development charges. A new option was proposed by Director of Finance Wayne Ritchie which would see the charges added to the tax bill, to be removed if an occupancy permit was issued for a new house within 12 months of the end of the fee "holiday". A special public meeting proposed for May 18 should tell us whether developers will be as pleased with this change to the by-law as Councillor Lemon expects.
"Heritage Grove" - I still can hardly write the name without thinking "what heritage? What grove?" - is the development on the south side of 16th Street East near the eastern city limits. Work on the Princess Auto store and a smaller building for an "undetermined tenant" between it and Winners has been delayed due to the rough winter and is now scheduled for completion November 30.
The contract for this year's Canada Day fireworks has been awarded to the same firm as last year. Almost $10,000 worth of sparkles in the dark.
Branningham Grove, commonly known as "the brothel", is one step closer to demolition. In spite of the unanimity of the recommendation by the Community Heritage and Planning Advisory Committee to designate the building under the Ontario Heritage Act, council did not accept it. Now that the technicalities of who has authority to request a demolition permit have been clarified, it is expected that the owners will do just that. Councillor Richard Thomas said that the fate of the building has been dealt with "over, and over, and over, and over again" and the outcome was essentially inevitable. Staff have been instructed to negotiate with the owners about salvage and heritage interpretation requirements to be registered on title. The building and lot remain for sale and the agent (former Louis' Steak House owner Louis Gavaris) has said the property would be more marketable without the house. Advocates for designation say the building offers a unique heritage opportunity that no "Big Box" entrance to the city can match.
Just a little taste of the variety of treasures in our city parks this summer – Art Crawl in Percy England Parkette, Kennel Club in Harrison Park, Ride Don't Hide for Mental Health at Kelso, Emancipation Day Festival in Harrison Park and public art installations everywhere from Jervis Bay Park to the washroom wall at Kelso.
Might be forced to get a cell phone. Bell Canada has announced it is removing public pay phones all over the country, including our transit terminal and the Bayshore Community Centre. Council voted to accept the Operations Advisory Committee's recommendation not to spend $1200 to keep one at the Bayshore.
Councillor Jim McManaman called the Owen Sound Municipal Non-Profit Housing Corporation and the Owen Sound Housing Company the city's "best kept secrets". It must be true, because even Mayor Ian Boddy admitted he was not clear on the distinction after four years on council. Council approved McManaman's motion to invite the two boards to make a presentation to council about who they are and what they do.
Councillor Richard Thomas reported from the Cultural Advisory Committee about a comprehensive report from Kee May Ip on the activities and plans of the local Chinese community. Of particular interest to the council may be their assistance in any future "twinning" of the City with an area of China, and in developing plans to encourage residents of the GTA of Chinese heritage to visit our area.
Councillor Thomas also reported on the Economic Development Committee which is developing working groups to brainstorm around the following areas: future school closures, downtown vacancies, waterfront redevelopment, Georgian College partnerships, local angel investment fund, business retention visits, youth businesses, "Dragon's Den" style business incubator, and energy-to-waste projects. While there was some concern about over-lapping the mandate of other city committees, the consensus seemed to be that any brainstorming on economic development ideas was a good and necessary beginning.
Since 2006 when the City began the process of re-aligning taxation to make business rates more favourable, commercial taxes have dropped 16% and large industrial 24%, making the ratio of residential to business tax very competitive with other municipalities our size, according to the Director of Finance. Ritchie also reported that reducing the tax on multi-unit residential buildings is also "on the city's radar."
After unsuccessful attempts to attract appropriate food suppliers to the Julie McArthur Regional Recreation Centre, the Council has given staff authority to enter into negotiations with interested vendors. Healthy choices have to be offered, and final approval of any contract is up to Council.
Anyone who has always wanted to help with the Festival of Northern Lights in any capacity should come along to their Open House Tuesday, May 5 at 7 p.m. at city hall.
Chickens and eggs – Councillor Marion Koepke, on behalf of the By-law Committee, is inviting any and all information about laying hens in the city. Send it soon – their next meeting is May 6.
Councillor Peter Lemon received Council's unanimous support for staff to prepare a letter asking MP Larry Miller, directly, if there are funds for the dredging of the Owen Sound harbour in the most recent federal budget.

And last but far from least, Council received a letter from the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ted McMeekin, to say that we are not eligible for funding under the Ontario Natural Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP). McMeekin concludes that our 330 frozen water services were not caused by a "sudden, unexpected natural disaster" and that the $1 million-plus cost is "not beyond the financial capacity to manage." Predictably, the Council begs to differ, and will request an immediate meeting with the Minister.<b


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