/EMS plans for potential emergency department closure
County councillors are split on whether to continue to provide funding to the Haliburton Highlands Outdoors Association which operates the Haliburton fish hatchery.

EMS plans for potential emergency department closure

By Chris Drost

The following are brief reports of items discussed during a Dec. 8 meeting of Haliburton County council held virtually.

Haliburton County council received an EMS (Emergency Medical Services) update from its chief, Tim Waite, at the Dec. 8 council meeting. He reported on the status of hospital emergency department closures  and the impact on EMS. While there had been some concerns about needing to close hospital emergency departments during the overnight hours due to a shortage of nurses, Haliburton Highlands Health Services has been able to find agency nurses to fill the void, at least until late-January – though unexpected staff shortages could still cause a reduction in services. If the Minden emergency department had to be closed, patients at the south end of the county would be taken to Lindsay, while those in the north would be re-routed to Bancroft. According to Waite, the rule is that they have to transport to the nearest hospital. 

“What would happen to the response times?” questioned Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts. Waite explained that “response time” is not how long it takes to get someone to the hospital. It refers to the time it takes for EMS to get to the person. This being the case, having to transport people farther would not cause an impact on the response times.

“Has there been any discussion with neighbouring hospitals?” asked Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin. Waite replied that he did not know of any. He clarified that the closures would probably be during the night shifts. He is not sure how many nights per week. It all depends on staff availability.

“The potential for disaster is huge,” added Devolin.

Hoping for funds to hire

Scott Ovell, Haliburton County’s newly hired director of economic development and tourism, presented his annual budget, which covered tourism marketing (digital, print, broadcast, branding and public relations), economic development marketing (investment and new resident attraction), Hike Haliburton, economic development programming and initiatives, and destination management plan implementation.

Ovell noted that an application in the amount of $145,000 has been submitted to the Tourism Relief Fund. If approved, it will include $120,000 for the position of content creator (12 to 18 months), $15,000 for a targeted Ontario tourism campaign and $10,000 for website enhancements.

Staff had previously allocated funding from the Safe Restart Program to support an economic development strategy. Staff will report back in early 2022 about any additional initiatives they would recommend using these funds for. Ovell also explained that staff will actively investigate other external funding opportunities throughout the year that could support council approved projects or initiatives. Ovell has already starting meeting with federal and provincial partners.

The tourism and economic development department operating budget is expected to come in under budget due to programming changes caused by the pandemic, and staffing changes.

Some of the pressures on the 2022 budget are expected to include the fact that both the manager and director of economic development and tourism will be new. Additionally, it will be important to identify sources of funding beyond the county tax levy. COVID-19 issues continue to potentially impact programming, events such as Hike Haliburton and local businesses.

The budget includes an increase in wages by $150,461 for the new director of economic development and tourism. This will be offset by $100,000 from the Safe Restart Funding. Contracted services will decrease by $50,000, which will be reallocated to software purchases in 2022. The reallocation for software purchases will also be offset by the Safe Restart Funding.

Following Ovell’s presentation, Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts stated that “we are all competing with other areas for tourism. What about this credit that the province is offering for accommodations for 2022? Do you have any ideas about that?”

“We will be coming back in early January to show how we can leverage these stays,” responded Ovell.

“It looks like an exciting year ahead,” said Warden and Algonquin Highlands Mayor Liz Danielsen.

County draft budget updated 

Andrea Bull, director of corporate services provided 2022 budget updates. The initial draft of the budget had been presented to council on Nov. 10. Based on council’s direction, she was on-hand to present an updated version. 

The library board will have a decrease in wages and benefits and is expected to have an increase in revenue. Also, the tax rate increase is expected to be 3.21 per cent, compared to 3.53 per cent in the initial draft. An addition of $5.1 million in assessment is expected.

“This second draft is less than the real rate of inflation. It has positioned us well. If some day they can unlock the freeze in MPAC and free up that assessment heading into six years of old data, it will take the burden off future councils. That is how municipalities get their revenue. The revenue should flow from increased value,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin.

Warden Liz Danielsen expressed concern that it looks like it may be heading into using eight years of old data. She suggested writing a letter or making a delegation to MPAC. Since it is too late for a delegation at ROMA, council approved staff drafting a letter to be brought to the next council meeting for approval.

Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt stated that she did not want the letter to become one that gets circulated to all the municipalities across the province. “It should be our letter from the County of Haliburton,” she said.

CAO Mike Rutter said he did not like to presume what council has not directed but he has included nine months for support in the budget for a community and safety coordinator. The recommendation will come forward when council sees the final budget. “We have made an assumption we don’t normally do,” he explained. 

“If we want to make meaningful and respectful change there needs to be a navigator. It is a good assumption, Mr. CAO,” said Moffatt.

“Who will pull this all together?” said Danielsen.

“You made a fair assumption and you know us well,” said Devolin.

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts noted that there will be more in-depth discussion about this later but she put forth the question, “Did other areas use a co-ordinator for their Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan?”

The Steering Committee will present on the afternoon of Dec. 15, with the goal of any changes coming to council for approval in January 2022.