/County council plans May 11 return to in-person meetings
Haliburton’s county council met virtually on March 23. /Screenshot from March 23 meeting

County council plans May 11 return to in-person meetings

By Sue Tiffin

The following are brief reports of items discussed during a March 23 committee of the whole meeting and recommended to be approved by county council. 

With all provincial restrictions related to COVID-19 precautions ending by April 27, councillors are readying themselves to meet in person again.

Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin was first to express his opinion about when county council should meet again face-to-face – the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020 – noting he was ready to meet as soon as possible, especially once all conditions were removed.

“In my mind, there’s no reason after that date to do anything but meet in person,” he said. 

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said that something to consider might be how often council meets, suggesting one of the two monthly meetings, while committees continue to meet virtually via Zoom, ensuring a reduction in mileage costs and that those outside of Haliburton County seasonally or for other reasons could still participate.

“Just because we can meet doesn’t mean we should be meeting for every single meeting,” she said. 

County Warden and Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen acknowledged that “there remains sensitivities with people,” that after a lengthy time of distancing and wearing masks, “whether we like it or not, there are people that need a bit of time to adjust.” 

Highlands East Councillor Cec Ryall said he disagreed with Devolin, and said the uptick in provincial numbers that might be related to restrictions lifting were of concern to him. He said there’s still a large percentage of people wearing masks, though they’re no longer mandated, and he is one of them. If council was to meet in April, he said he would meet via Zoom if possible or not attend – but that he was more comfortable meeting in May. 

Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said that municipality’s council was meeting in person on April 7, with staff attending virtually from their offices in the building via Zoom. 

She said that while Zoom was initially new and overwhelming, she thought now “it’s part of the way we do business.” 

Eventually, some people might be attending meetings from their house in Florida, she suggested, noting she personally didn’t support that but council had initially decided Zooming in to meetings would be possible in extraordinary circumstances.

Danielsen was in agreement that committees, especially those meeting at night or in poor weather, might still be able to meet virtually.  

“I personally have a little bit of an issue of a blended solution, some meeting virtually, some not, but that’s just my own thoughts,” she said.

Minden Hills Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell said the situation was tricky with some people being more comfortable than others, but referred to the mask mandate ending at schools last week in which some kids want to wear masks and some won’t want to.

“If Councillor Ryall wants to wear a mask or socially distance himself at the meeting, I wouldn’t take offence to it, I would have no problem,” she said. “I would have a problem with someone Zooming in unless they had a broken leg, or a really good legitimate reason.”

She said that with the province lifting restrictions, she thought council should be doing the same.

“When it comes to council meetings, I think it’s time we get back together and keep moving forward and setting an example for the community,” she said.

Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton said that municipality was discussing the possibility of meeting in-person for council, with staff reports and public delegations occurring via Zoom, for about six more months. 

Ryall said he didn’t want people to think he didn’t want to meet in person.

“That’s not what I said at all,” he said, reiterating he was comfortable meeting in May.

“I think in May we’ll have a better understanding,” he said. “I’m merely saying that jumping the gun, in my mind, is not the right thing to do.”

He said if restrictions were lifted at the end of April, the county’s first meeting in May would be the appropriate time to meet.

Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Patrick Kennedy was also supportive of meeting in person as a council, with committees meeting by Zoom, and social distancing and mask-wearing being optional. 

Moffatt said the cost of gas and the mileage issue was something to consider as well – council had earlier opted to raise the mileage fee (see brief below).

“We’re looking at tenders coming in way over price, costs are increasing, we’ve just raised the mileage fee, let’s not all get giddy and jump in our cars,” she said, noting it would be best to not put more cars on the road. 

The committee of the whole meeting will take place on May 11, with CAO Mike Rutter and IT staff attending in-person, and other staff attending virtually. 

Short-term rental survey looking for feedback

Residents will soon be able to offer their perspectives on short-term rentals in the area. A survey looking to garner information on residents’ perspectives about short-term accommodations and issues around the venues so that the county can prepare a new short-term rental policy will soon be released after much review from council.

An updated short-term rental community survey was presented to council by J.L. Richards & Associates Ltd. Council with changes made after councillors had scrutinized a draft of the survey at a Feb. 23 meeting.

While some councillors had questions still about definitions and clarity of questions within the survey, Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said it was a good starting point, offering space for feedback. 

“I think we’re just trying to get a bit of a snapshot of what are the pros, the cons, the concerns, all of the feelings and perceptions, and this is the public’s opportunity to get that back to us.”

It’s expected to be the first of two surveys released.

Mileage rate increase 

Councillors approved an amendment to the county’s mileage rates policy, increasing the rate from 45 cents per kilometre to 61 cents per kilometre for the first 5,000 kilometres and 55 cents for distances after, according to Canada Revenue Agency reasonable allowance rates. 

In a report from Mike Rutter, county CAO/clerk, he said Haliburton County’s CAOs had recently been discussing mileage rates, and that other EOWC municipalities showed Haliburton County’s rates are “significantly lower” than others. The Haliburton County Public Library has recently decided to increase their mileage rates, and Dysart et al has directed a review of their policy as well. 

“With the dramatic increase in gas prices, combined with the fact that mobility has increased with the lessening of public health restrictions, staff are recommending that a review take place at this time,” said Rutter in his report.

Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt asked if a report was necessary, if it was already known what the CRA rates were. County councillors agreed.  

“If we’re going to hitch our wagon to the CRA, let’s just do it,” said Minden Mayor Brent Devolin.