The following are brief reports of items discussed at a May 19 meeting of Algonquin Highlands council.
By Sue Tiffin
Algonquin Highlands township staff and councillors are getting what Mayor Carol Moffatt called a “tremendous number” of phone calls and inquiries regarding the reopening of the Dorset Recreation Centre.
As a result, updates about the rec centre will be shared online as they are available, to help keep the public informed and decrease calls regarding the issue.
An update on the township’s website posted May 19 reads in part:
“The Dorset Recreation Centre (DRC) is a highly-valued community hub and it’s acknowledged that its continued closure is frustrating to many. Unfortunately, the DRC will remain closed for the coming months to address mould and moisture issues throughout the building. Importantly, the issue poses no health concerns for past facility users.”
The town’s community centre has been closed as a result of an ongoing mould issue discovered in March last year – at first, the mould was discovered during a small renovation project in the downstairs bathroom, and a further investigation showed greater spread of the mould and moisture.
“The township undertook a professional assessment to provide recommendations and cost estimates to repair the problem areas,” reads the update. “As well as addressing insulation and waterproofing, pandemic-related provincial direction on ventilation requires improvements, with overall estimated costs of some $900,000.”
An application to the Ontario Trillum Fund was unsuccessful, that process taking four months. Council has included the costs of the repair of the building in the reserves of the 2022 municipal budget. Funding from the Investing in Canada’s Infrastructure Grant totalling $100,000 will help fund the ventilation portion of the project.
“The costs are not insignificant, as the township chose not only to fix the identified problems, but also to invest further in this vital community link,” reads the update.
Chris Card, parks, recreation and trails manager, said staff is continuing to work on finalizing plans and developing a tender for the work needed to be done.
“It is expected that it is going to be something that very likely is going to bring us into next year,” he said.
Councillor Julia Shortreed said she appreciated the updates being made online.
“I love that idea – so many people, every week, are asking, asking, asking, is it ever going to open, so that would be fantastic,” she said.
“Some folks are saying we’re not doing anything, we’re just going to leave it there, and that is absolutely not the case,” said Moffatt.
The centre is home to an air-conditioned squash court, weight and fitness room, meeting rooms, two kitchens, showers and a gymnasium equipped with volleyball, basketball, floor hockey and pickleball equipment, as well as public computers and printing. It’s used for recreation as well as private parties, meetings, workshops, dances and weddings.
Further information including updates about the Dorset Recreation Centre can be found here: https://www.algonquinhighlands.ca/dorset-recreation-centre.php
Septic re-inspection program discussed
Council had a planned general discussion on the township’s septic re-inspection program, which ends this year after five years.
Property owners whose septic systems had issues after inspections in 2020 should expect follow-up at this time, while those with issues in 2021 will be contacted soon. Those whose systems were identified as being problematic in 2018 might see possible orders issued if the problems haven’t been corrected.
Mayor Carol Moffatt asked what council would like to do with the program after it ended – start again immediately at the beginning, or wait a year or a few years to begin again.
“It’s like painting the bridge in Sydney, Australia, as soon as you finish painting at one end, you start at the beginning again,” she said.
Moffatt said she wondered if people in Zone 1, which she noted includes herself, “might bulk at another $200, five years later.”
“I feel really strongly that we continue this program,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen, acknowledging the work done so far. “Given what we’ve been hearing at the county level about shoreline preservation and protection of our lakes, we’ve heard so many people say ‘you need to be looking at septics,’ ‘you need to deal with septics,’ it was just a consistent thing.”
She said she would like to see council develop a new program going forward, following up on properties that were of concern and looking into new properties that have been developed in the past five years or had crossed an age threshold after five more years since the program started.
Councillor Jennifer Dailloux asked if the company helping conduct the program might offer notes on lessons learned that would help the township make changes if necessary.
Councillor Lisa Barry said going forward it would likely be more a maintenance program rather than inspection program, and asked about the local economic opportunity if municipalities joined to do the program at the same time.
Moffatt said there should be a county-wide inspection program but until that occurs, the Algonquin Highlands program needed to continue.
“We’ve learned a lot but I think the property owners have learned a lot, too,” said Councillor Julia Shortreed.
Councillors agreed an education piece to help the public understand best practices for septic system care would be helpful and requested staff report back with recommendations though noted the program would not begin again immediately in 2023.
Maple Lake landfill accessibility
Councillor Lisa Barry told Adam Thorn, public works supervisor, that she’d been receiving feedback about accessibility at the Maple Lake landfill.
“A lot of people are having trouble physically going the distance to do their recycling, and are in lineups, I’ve heard several complaints and I just want to know if anything is happening to address some of those concerns.”
Thorn said that traditionally, Maple Lake landfill users have been able to pull up, and back their vehicles toward the bins in order to unload their waste or recycling.
“What we’re finding is that this is creating a lot of congestion in this area, it’s also creating a very hazardous possibility for collision to happen,” he said. “It’s kind of surprising a collision hasn’t happened yet because it does get very congested in the area.”
Thorn said staff have put up markers to create three lanes of traffic at the site, to keep traffic flowing without the possibility to back in to the bins.
“This is temporary as we move forward with this operation centre,” said Thorn. “This isn’t the plan moving forward at the centre for the next year or so, it just helps with traffic flow and helps with safety.”
“So what we gain in flow and safety we lose in what is perceived as an accessibility challenge for people who have to lug things,” said Moffatt.
Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen said she appreciated what staff was trying to do, but said she saw some “minor cases of dump rage, possibly myself being included,” during an experience she had on a busy Saturday.
“Given that people didn’t know where to go, and there was no signage, they were kind of all over the place, and I thought that what we had done had created a greater risk for traffic incidents. There were vehicles going in every direction because they didn’t know what to do or which lane to go in or because they knew they were going to have difficulty carrying they went some place they weren’t supposed to go.”
Danielsen said she didn’t know what the solution was but there were a lot of “unhappy campers.”
She said it resulted in some people having to carry heavy bags further now, and there are “literally some people who can’t do it.”
She said the attendants might need to provide more information about the set-up.
Thorn said staff had reviewed the site and felt the current set-up was safest for traffic flow given the design of the site. He said they had looked into signage and it had been installed the day before, and that training of staff at the site to help direct people where to go was now in place. While the possibility of carts were raised, Thorn said that can create more problems if people don’t return the carts or leave them dirty or in an unsafe place.
“The best option we could come up with is what we have in place now,” said Thorn, but said staff would monitor how it was working to keep it as efficient as possible.
Soccer program looking for coaches
The first summer soccer program to be held in Stanhope since the start of the pandemic is seeing “very good uptake,” with “everyone excited to see that up and running,” said Chris Card, parks, recreation and trails manager.
The township is still looking for volunteer coaches to help. Card noted they’ve “had a number of people step up,” but “the more hands the better.” He said it’s a great opportunity for high school students looking for volunteer hours.
Those interested will receive coach certification training.
For more information contact Sandra Rogers, Algonquin Highlands recreation co-ordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disconnecting from work
By June 2, the township is required to have a policy in place to be compliant with Bill 27, Ontario Working for Workers Act, 2021 which requires employers with more than 25 employees to have a written workplace policy with respect to disconnecting from work.
“The Employment Standards Act, 2000 defines ‘disconnecting from work’ to mean ‘not engaging in work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, so as to be free from the performance of work,’” reads a report from Angie Bird, CAO/deputy clerk. “The guide states that this definition is not exhaustive and other types of work-related communications could also fall under it.”
“It really is to ensure that employees have a work-life balance, that we allow them to disconnect from work while they’re at home and on their free time,” Bird said to council. “It’s interesting, while we were drafting this policy – we already do this. We value the work-life balance and staff are encouraged to disconnect when they’re at home, when they’re on vacation, when they’re on their free time. We have a way of connecting if we need to if it’s urgent when someone is off, but we really respect staff’s time when they’re away from work.”
Bird said the policy won’t change anything for staff or what the township does, but another policy will come forward for those who work on standby or on call.
“It’s good, over the years you develop a working relationship, Angie and I have a text code, ‘sorry to bug you,’ but that means, ‘I need you for something.’ If it’s just, ‘don’t forget about the policy or the thing about this for Monday,’ but everybody sort of works their own communication relationship but it is, after hours, it’s, ‘sorry to bug you, but.’”
Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen said she considered the policy well-developed and balanced.
“I suspect that members of council are guilty of – I know that I’m apt to be reading an agenda at midnight, and you think of something and send an email and there’s no expectation of a response, but should we stop doing that? As long as everybody understands there’s no need for a response, that it’s not urgent?”
Moffatt said that was a good question.
“I have sent emails to get it off of my plate, and I’ll get a response on a Sunday morning from a staff member, and I think, ‘oh, that’s not what I meant!’”
Bird said it was likely everyone was guilty of that.
“It’s just important, on both sides, to know that if a council member sends an email to a staff member at midnight, there isn’t an expectation to respond until working hours, unless you say, ‘I’m really sorry.’ Personally, you wouldn’t get me at midnight. On the flip side, if you don’t get a response, it’s OK. I think it’s just that understanding.”
“I think there’s what the words say on the page and then there’s those internally developed working relationships, which I think is very important,” said Moffatt.
Councillor Jennifer Dailloux said her brain expands to think about things beyond minutiae either late at night or Saturday morning that she’s too busy to focus on during the day.
“It’s in those relaxed periods where I have some of those deeper questions, and I want to whip a question off to [staff], ‘Has the township ever thought about this, etc.?’ and it’s nice to hit send. … Would that be the way going forward, then, so that anything coming from our emails over the weekend is known to not exist until Monday morning, on their side?”
Moffatt said yes, unless it’s urgent.
“What’s interesting, we’re trying to discern how to manage our own internal communication and our own relationships at midnight and on Saturdays, so I think that’s an important note too, that councillors undertake their work at different hours based on their own lives, then staff here,” she said.
Councillor Lisa Barry asked if it was a faux pas to send something at midnight knowing there would be no response.
“You get a ding on a Saturday from a councillor, is that seen as overstepping the policy?” she asked. “I wouldn’t expect a response until Monday.”
“The easy answer is, unless it’s an emergency, don’t send something after hours,” replied Moffatt. “We could commit to that.”
“I think it’s about being reasonable,” said Bird. “I think it’s just being aware. And if it’s as simple as, ‘don’t worry about this until Monday, adding that in your email,’ and staff are fully aware, they’d recognize an emergency. They too, can choose to respond if they want to, ‘get that off my plate before Monday and then I don’t have to deal with it Monday morning’ – that’s also a choice. But recognizing that it’s not expected unless it’s an emergency.”