Category Archives: Ideas

The 411 on 211

It’s common knowledge that, in North America, you dial 911 in an emergency. It’s a good thing—we can all be comforted by that shorthand that makes it so easy to access urgent care.

But not all emergencies call for a paramedic or police officer. A crisis can happen in a person’s family, work life or community, and suddenly there’s a mire of numbers to wade through to find the right service.

In 1997, the United Way of Atlanta, Georgia, came up with a solution to those social emergencies by twinning 911 with 211, a live, volunteer-operated community database of services for everything from health to legal advice to immigrant services.

The service works like 911: dial the number, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, explain your emergency, and the operator, a volunteer who is familiar with the services in your area, will find the help you need.

It’s a way to keep the social services sector working properly, and it takes a burden off 911 traffic, as some 911 callers could be helped instead by 211.

In Ontario, an initiative started in 2002 to get a 211 service up and running. In 2006, the provincial government gave the United Way $1.4 million to start the phone service, and an additional $3 million to start the website: ontario211.ca.

 

By 2008, more than 50 per cent of Ontarians had access to the 211 service. The Ontario government pledged another $13 million over four years to complete building the service until it’s available to all Ontarians, then $4 million annually to keep the service running.

In that time 211 has developed a database of 56,000 services available in Ontario.

This is the last of those four years and 211 is now advertised and available in most of the province. By the end of the year, the service should be available to everyone in Ontario. In eastern Ontario, there are only four counties left that have not officially begun receiving 211 service: the united counties of Russell & Prescott; Hastings County; and Prince Edward County.

Last week Bill Morris, executive director of Ontario’s 211 services corporation, presented the service to the Committee of the Whole, and asked for approval and financial support.

The model, said Morris, relied on 60 per cent of its funding from the provincial government, 10 per cent support each from the federal government and from United Way, and 20 per cent from municipalities.

Morris also said that the service already exists in the County. If you pick up a phone and dial 211 you will get an operator able to help you find local services. The service corporation is using a soft launch approach, meaning the service will be advertised after it’s available. 211 is set to launch in the County officially in November.

Although councillors seemed to agree with the idea of the 211 service, they did not seem impressed that an initiative that had been in the works for nearly 10 years, and that expected municipal support, was only coming to their attention weeks before being implemented. Councillor Bev Campbell wanted to know what body would be responsible for making decisions about funding. She also wanted to know when council could know what figure the service would expect from the County, and if council would have any say.

Morris declined to answer those questions in a concrete way, saying the service was important, but that he was charged with implementing it and did not want to get into the politics of shared provincial and municipal finances.

Without word on how much money they would have to spend, council received Morris’s presentation before proceeding with County business.

Food flight

The founder of the local small business Foodscrooge, Tim Ray was only in his Picton office for half a year before media giant Torstar made its bid and purchased the fledgeling web-based business.

WagJag, a group-buying business owned by Torstar, will absorb Foodscrooge into its interface as WagJag Grocery, with Ray still at the helm. But instead of working out of his office in Picton, Ray will relocate, minus his employee, to an office in Toronto.

Foodscrooge is also a group-buying business, but focuses on bulk grocery items, mostly meat and fish. Customers who sign up for the service are alerted about sales and have a limited time to purchase food at sharply reduced prices because of the large quantity purchased.

The concept follows a similar trend as other group-buying services, like Groupon, but is the only one to focus on food.

Ray’s business made headlines in March when he, along with three other Queen’s University students and alumni, won the Queen’s School of Business Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Community Futures Development Corporation (QSB PELA CFDC) business plan competition.

The prize for all three winners was a $150,000, interest-free Government of Canada loan each to start a small business. The only requirement is that the start-ups must be located in the County of Prince Edward or Lennox and Addington.

According to Craig Desjardins, executive director of PELA CFDC, the purpose of the competition was to make it attractive for upand- coming business people to invest in the area as a place to start a small business, and to start hiring.

Still, the localization of the tech sector in the GTA, and a lack of essential services, such as broadband Internet in rural areas, makes staying in the County a tough sell, as Ray’s experience makes clear.

“We tried to convince Torstar to move their office to Picton,” quipped Desjardins, “but obviously with no results. That’s the free market. We’re certainly sad to see Tim leave us but that’s the nature of the free market.”

Although Desjardins is disappointed that the County will be losing Ray, he does not think the buyout is negative. Rather, he says that the company’s success, defined by Torstar’s interest in it, will make the program more appealing for future applicants.

Ray agrees with that sentiment.

“I think we brought a lot of publicity to Prince Edward County, and especially this competition that is going to be bringing in a lot of entrepreneurs,” said Ray.

Ray was born in Stirling, raised in Belleville and has family in Foxborough, so he feels connected to this area. He said that personally, he want to stay true to the place that helped him achieve success. “My goal is that I would be [with Torstar] for the next two years, and then work with the PELA CFDC to launch a company based out of Picton again.”

In a news release announcing the acquisition, Ray credits the QSB PELA CFDC competition and the tech centre in Picton for his company’s success.

Landfill plan dumped

When the County was looking to save money during budget time in February, one of the decisions made by council was to close five of the seven landfill and transfer sites; at Ameliasburgh, Hillier, South Marysburgh, Sophiasburgh and Hallowell, from Nov. 1 until April 30.

The two sites that would remain open would be in Wellington and Picton.

Neither the Wellington nor the Picton site can accept brush. That means that if all other sites are closed for the winter, broken branches and Christmas trees would have to stay on a resident’s property until spring.

Last week councillors Kevin Gale of Sophiasburgh and Barry Turpin of Bloomfield led an effort to revisit the budget decision (Turpin also sits on the Quinte Waste Solutions Board). They argued that the winter closure of these dumps will lead some to discard their waste on County roadsides.

Gale suggested that folks on the far side of Big Island won’t travel to Picton or Wellington to discard their old couches.

“That’s going to end up in the ditch, is where it’s going to be,” predicted Gale.

The Sophiasburgh councillor further predicted the County would chew up any projected savings by picking up garbage left by the roadside.

Gale and Turpin suggested that if saving money was necessary, the operating costs could be cut in half by opening the dumps only on Saturdays, instead of the usual Wednesdays and Saturdays. According to Robert McAuley, commissioner of the public works department, that would save the County $15,000 instead of the originally proposed $30,000.

The issue was hotly debated. Opinion was split about whether the change was a good idea. There was disagreement too about the wisdom of revisiting in September decisions made in March.

Hillier Councillor Alec Lunn argued that it was necessary to close some of the landfill sites to prolong their limited lifespan.

“People get over it,” said Lunn. “They get used to it. They have roadside pickup, we don’t have as much money to spend, it is a service cut, yes. But this is something we discussed, decided on, and decided to live with. We’re cutting services in order to save the tax roll.”

Despite Lunn’s objections the committee approved the proposal to open the targeted dumps one day per week. The final decision will be made at a council meeting, likely on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. at Shire Hall in Picton.

Council has been here before. Last year it approved a plan to suspend operation at the Hillier landfill site, only to overturn its own decision a few weeks later during a raucous meeting in Hillier.

Advertisements notifying the public of the now-reversed winter closure decision have already been published. There was no word on the cost of revised advertisements and signage, or where the extra $15,000 would come from, although Quaiff suggested McAuley might find the money by reducing equipment and vehicle purchases.