/AH passes 2021 budget

AH passes 2021 budget

By Chad Ingram

The following are brief reports of items discussed during a March 18 meeting of Algonquin Highlands council.

Councillors passed the township’s 2021 budget, which includes $12.4 million in total spending, $5.7 million of which will come from property taxation. This represents a levy increase of 4.98 per cent over last year, which will equate to a 3.89 per cent tax rate increase at the lower-tier level for residents. This equates to a $12.50 increase for every $100,000 of assessment for residential properties. The township accrued a surplus of approximately $1 million in 2020, due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in cancelled training and conferences, some reduced wages, as well as deferred projects. The surplus funds are being placed in departmental reserves for the completion of future capital projects.

Landfills up to snuff
Annual monitoring reports for the township’s waste disposal sites, conducted by environmental consulting firm Cambium Inc., show the facilities to be in compliance with regulations from the Ministry of Environment, Parks and Conservation. The report for the Pine Springs landfill shows it has a remaining life span of more than 100 years. However, as environmental co-ordinator Melissa Murray pointed out, with the impending closure of the Hawk Lake landfill, that life span forecast may be subject to change, as residents who’ve traditionally used the Hawk Lake location will be taking their garbage to other waste disposal sites.
“We’ll see how quickly it catches up,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt.

The township is scheduled to close the Hawk Lake landfill, which has reached capacity, to the public on Oct. 16 of this year. A staff report indicated that while all closure activities are mandated to be completed by March of 2023, the township intends to perform the bulk of that site work in 2022. “Clean-up of blown litter in the forest immediately surrounding the site will be planned for completion as part of site closure activities,” the report reads.

COVID-19 cancellation refund
Council approved amendments to fees and charges for the Haliburton Highlands Water Trails campsite network. In the event of another provincially mandated lockdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a full refund will be issued for sites reserved during that time period, minus a non-refundable reservation surcharge.

Committee meetings remain paused
The township’s advisory committees have not been meeting since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and council discussed the possibility of having committee meetings resume in an online format. Algonquin Highlands council and other councils in the county have been meeting electronically for nearly the past year, with councillors and staff participating remotely via conferencing app Zoom, and the meetings broadcast to the public on YouTube.

A staff report laid out three options, those being to stay with the status quo for the time being; resume committee meetings using Zoom but not live-stream on YouTube; or to hold meetings via Zoom and live-stream them on YouTube, as is done with meetings of council.
The report indicated that with the exception of the Dorset museum committee, meetings would not entail extra staff time as all other committees have staff members on them. The clerk’s department would be responsible for scheduling and hosting meetings.

“It’s very easy at the front end to say, we’ll send out a Zoom link and have a chat, and that’s not the case” said Mayor Carol Moffatt. “It’s a bit onerous, to a certain degree. So my big question to council is, is there anything that’s really urgent that committees need to be doing at the moment, considering things are still closed?”

Councillors reluctantly agreed that the logistical hurdles, internet connectivity issues and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic could cause complications.

“I feel kind of bad saying this, but I almost think we should go with Option 1 and do nothing at this time,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen. “I just don’t think that it’s the right time for us. We’re going into what’s being called a third wave of the pandemic, we’ve still got declarations of emergency, and it sounds to me like there are just one or two too many complications with trying to organize this. I think that if there was really, truly a big decision that the committees needed to weigh in on, I think there’s other ways of doing that, rather than starting regular meetings at this point in time.”

Councillor Julia Shortreed pointed out that a lot of committee work has to do with events. “We’re at a point now where we don’t know going forward what’s going to happen, so I really can’t see anything productive coming out of so much effort,” Shortreed said.