The following are brief reports of items discussed at the Dec. 14 meeting of Algonquin Highlands council.
A decision to apply the township’s policy on criminal record checks to all volunteers, including those who do relatively small tasks during events like Dorset Snowball, may be news to some volunteers when they show up to help out.
Following feedback from members of the Dorset Recreation Committee, Councillor Brian Lynch asked that the topic be brought to council.
“As I looked at the policy, the policy seemed to have been put in place to address membership of committees and not so much general volunteers at one-day events. The Dorset Snowball, to my knowledge, has never had police checks. Certainly in my involvement, which goes back 15 years at least, there’s never been police checks perhaps there should have been, but there wasn’t,” he said.
This year, the township’s intention is to require that all volunteers complete a criminal record check ahead of time.
Lynch said there were several volunteers who were in the habit of coming to the event and rolling up their sleeves to help. Those people wouldn’t necessarily know that a police check was necessary and would be turned away.
Some of those people have volunteered for years.
Lynch wondered if managers could waive police checks for volunteers who would not be interacting with the public.
“I would be concerned about waiving vulnerable sector checks for anybody who’s interacting with the vulnerable sector,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt, “… and something like the Dorset Snowball is awash with children. I think it’s the township’s due diligence to ensure the safety of its residents and its event attendees.”
Chris Card, parks, recreation and trails manager for Algonquin Highlands, said he would like to update the current policy, which doesn’t make clear that all volunteers need to complete the police check process. He would also look into some of the finer points of the policy.
There is no other vetting process in place, such as reference checks or training programs, for most volunteer positions, he said.
Card told council staff was preparing to deal with volunteers who arrive on the day of the event to be told they cannot help out this year. However, they are trying to avoid that situation as much as possible by publicizing the police check requirement and distributing paperwork that will assist in the process, including a pre-stamped envelope to be taken to the OPP detachment as well as a fee waiver letter.
“This is not something that is so hard to do that volunteers are going to fall off the map,” said Moffatt, while acknowledging that there may be a few who choose not to go through the vetting process.
She said the Minden OPP detachment had told her the criminal record checks were typically done within a week.
Councillors discussed what should be defined as volunteering under the policy and where the line would be.
If someone helps by stacking chairs at the end of a public meeting, is that person technically volunteering?
“What’s reasonable and at what point do you end up in crazyland?” Moffatt asked.
Card will be drafting an updated policy to come to the February council meeting. In the meantime, all Dorset Snowball volunteers will need to complete a police check before they can help out.
Council supports permanent health hubs
Algonquin Highlands council agreed in principle that the Dorset Community Health Hub continue operations beyond the trial period, contingent on sustainable funding from the province.
The resolution was passed in response to a presentation by director of programs from the District of Muskoka, Cheryl Faber.
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care funded the Muskoka Community Health Hubs Demonstration Project in 2014, which allowed for the establishment of five locations: Wahta First Nation, Port Carling, Dorset, Severn Bridge, Port Sydney and Vankoughnet.
The hubs provided primary and secondary care to about 1,800 patients during more than 15,000 visits, reducing pressure on emergency departments, according council package materials.
As a demonstration project, the annual funding is set to expire in August of 2018, which led the group to apply for long-term base funding to make the hubs permanent.
“The communities have continued to contribute overwhelmingly for this health hub project,” said Faber, pointing to $4 million raised for capital and building costs and the ongoing support of the Dorset Community Partnership Fund.
As Dorset lies on the boundary of Algonquin Highlands and Lake of Bays, the latter’s Mayor Bob Young attended the meeting to share his council’s feelings about ongoing funding.
He said his council decided to write a letter of support “on the condition that an extra $100,000 per annum be added to the Dorset amount alone because that is what’s required to take it totally to the model you’re talking about.”
That model includes telemedicine services, outreach and lab services, among other things.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said that there had been some concern that following the demonstration project, residents would expect the municipalities to foot the bill, should the province decide not to fund it.
“I’m glad to see it move into a more formalized process for requesting the permanent funding. I think that’s a tremendous direction to go in,” she said.
Algonquin Highlands would be interested in continuing its support for the Dorset hub only, she said, noting that the letter would reflect that Dorset is part of a larger network.
“Our focus is trying to continually assist where we can the Dorset facility alone, but certainly the Dorset facility is part of the five,” she said.
Council’s letter of support will be included in the health hub operations committee’s submission to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, which is due in January.
Township waits on county decision
Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce manager Autumn Wilson attended council to pitch a video project that would aim to attract new residents to the county with the aim of beefing up the workforce.
Mayor Carol Moffatt noted that Wilson is giving the presentation to all of the municipalities – including the county – and that conversation at the upper tier had indicated the funding for the video could come from the county.
The video would use the catch phrase “what are you waiting for?” and highlight the benefits of living and working in the Highlands.
Wilson told council that the demographics of the region are lopsided toward the senior end of the spectrum, which limits the number of people available to fill job postings. This, in turn, makes the area less attractive to employers thinking of setting up shop.
The ask was for each municipality (including the county) to contribute $2,000 toward the project, giving them $10,000 to work with. A rural economic development grant has also been applied for, which could reduce the bill by $5,000 if the chamber is successful.
“This is not the first time this kind of film has been made, but with an emphasis on business I think it’s a great idea. I love the tag ‘what are you waiting for?’ I just think that’s perfect,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen.
She also praised the idea of encouraging employers to post the short video to online job postings.
Moffatt said the chamber is in a good position to collaborate with other groups including the Lake of Bays economic development committee and the county’s tourism department.
Wilson agreed and said breaking down silos that keep groups from partnering was one of her top priorities heading into the new year.
County council is to consider its budget on Jan. 4. If councillors choose to fund the video at the upper tier level, Algonquin Highlands council will not need to revisit the topic.