/AH to return to in-person council 

AH to return to in-person council 

The following are brief reports of items discussed during a March 17 meeting of Algonquin Highlands council held virtually. 

By Sue Tiffin

After two years of not meeting in person, Algonquin Highlands council has set a date to return to council chambers: April 7. 

Since soon after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, councils across the county have been conducted virtually with councillors and staff meeting via Zoom, those meetings livestreamed to the public via YouTube. 

Mayor Carol Moffatt noted the need for a discussion of everyone’s comfort level and willingness to resume in-person meetings.

“If council chooses to resume in-person meetings, that everybody is going to have the utmost respect for the wishes of others so that if anybody has concerns or hesitancies they will be respected carte blanche so we can maintain a good working relationship and provide a safe environment for all,” she said. 

Councillors Julia Shortreed, Lisa Barry and Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen supported meeting in person again. Councillor Jennifer Dailloux was not in attendance at last week’s meeting. 

“It’s been a long time – I have no problem at all coming back any time,” said Shortreed. “I think we’re going to see COVID around for a long time so basing it around that is irrelevant because it’s going to just keep popping up its ugly head here and there.”

As of March 21, the provincial government removed mask mandates and regulatory requirements including passive screening and safety plans. Township staff have been told they’re welcome to continue wearing masks if they’d prefer, as well as request that anyone coming in to their office wear a mask. 

“It’s a personal choice for all of us, everybody’s got different comfort levels and I think it’s going to take us a little while to work through it – what is normal going to be?,” said Danielsen. “It will take us some time and we have to respect those wishes for sure.”

Council meetings will continue to be livestreamed, and council chambers have been set up with new equipment to do so.  

Advisory committees, meanwhile, have not met since March 2020. Some members of advisory committees have expressed interest in returning to in-person meetings, while others are not interested in returning to in-person meetings yet, and other members have not responded or are not interested in carrying on as committee members after the hiatus. 

The Oxtongue Lake community centre, Dorset museum and Stanhope museum committees and cultural resources committees will reconvene. The Stanhope recreation committee will be dissolved, which will be revisited in the new term of council. The environment committee and airport committee will be deferred until the new term of council, at which point a call for new members will be issued as membership numbers have decreased. 

Busy year for building

In February, the building and bylaw department issued 14 building permits and four septic permits totalling more than $18,000 in permit fees with a construction value in excess of $1.7 million. 

“Looks like we’re on tap to be as busy as last year as far as permits are concerned,” said Greg Moore, chief building official. In 2021, 346 building permits were issued in Algonquin Highlands. 

“It does point to another busy year, which is both good and bad, but it certainly shows the community’s growing,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt. 

Lone Skin Lake landing project bidder 

One proposal was received for the Lower Fletcher (Skin) Lake landing consulting and project management services RFP, for the amount of $68,000. The entire project budget including construction is $100,520.

Chris Card, parks, recreation and trails manager said the proposal was “significantly higher” than he would have anticipated, which was around 15 to 20 per cent that cost, but said he hopes to cancel the RFP process and instead enter into negotiation with the lone bidder, with possible revisions being charged per diem rather than an upfront lump sum. Meetings attended via Zoom would also reduce costs. Card asked council how they’d like to move forward, specifically questioning what level of involvement they’d like to have with design phases. 

“Personally I think Chris knows what we need and we don’t necessarily need to be involved on so many occasions with the discussion or the design aspects of the project,” said Danielsen. “I’d like to see us go ahead because I don’t think it will be cheaper in the future.” 

The project would be completed by the end of next year. Card will report back to council at a future meeting. 

Surface treatment tender bids come in high 

Three bids from three contractors responding to a joint tender of the County of Haliburton and Township of Algonquin Highlands for surface treatment came in over budget.  

Nordic Inn and Scenic Tower Roads require double surface treatment with a fog seal; Oliver and East Roads as well as Maple Ridge Drive require single surface treatment with a fog seal and Buckslide Road, Town Lot Road and Heron Landing Road require slurry seal.

Miller Paving bid $368,613, Duncore Enterprises bid $459,564 and Greenwood Paving bid $559,706.

“The combined budget for these projects was estimated at $331,150 excluding tax therefore at the lowest bid price the cost of the overall project will be over budget by $37,463,” reads public works supervisor Adam Thorn’s report. He said staff had estimated the 2022  budget amounts based on a five per cent increase over the 2021 costs, but both increasing fuel and material costs caused the increase to be higher. 

“The work hasn’t changed, just the cost of materials,” Thorn told council. He was asking council to allow for more funds to be brought forward to have the roads completed.    

“This is a little red flag in the back of my head, it’s very early in the year,” said Moffatt. “We, during budget, certainly talked about the need to have more funds available and the uncertainty of project pricing. I don’t know that we have much choice but we do need to be attentive to what it does to the bottom line.”

Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen said, that, similarly to the Skin Lake landing project, the prices would likely not get better. 

“I’m not sure that we can really afford to defer it,” she said. “It’s interesting to see the spread in prices from the three different bidders. I think we’ve probably been given as good a price as we can get and we should move forward.” 

Airport work’s lowest bidder approved

In 2021, $180,000 was budgeted for work around hangars at the Stanhope Airport, including drainage improvement and asphalt work. 

Bids came in high – Weir Gradall bid $297,597; Hawk River bid $352,832 and Fowler bid $491,242 – all excluding HST. 

“After review of the abnormally high cost estimates at the July 15, 2021 council meeting, council supported staff’s recommendation to defer this project to a later time in hopes construction costs would be more reasonable,” reads Thorn’s report. At the March 17 meeting, he said the costs were not likely to get any lower as the cost of fuel and materials continued to increase.

“If the township continues to defer this project we could see major cost increases, and increased costs for repairs to the hangers as a result of the water infiltrating the buildings,” he said in his report. “The lowest bidder has confirmed they will hold their pricing for labour, trucking and aggregate materials as listed in the bid submission. The only potential increased cost would be for the asphalt application which is expected to increase by 10 per cent. This increase can be covered under the contingency portion of the proposed contract.”

Council approved the recommendation to award the bid to Weir Gradall at $297,597 plus tax.