Georgian Bluffs council voted Wednesday to delay passing the 2020 budget as it dealt with business for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic essentially closed down the region in mid-March.
Other issues council addressed over the course of the more than two-hour-long meeting included staff reports and zoning bylaw amendments from a cancelled meeting on March 18 and issues related to the pandemic.
“We never finished the March 18 council meeting so we had a lot of business on there that was just sitting there waiting to be dealt with,” Mayor Dwight Burley said after the meeting. “It was important that we got that part of the business done and now we can move forward.”
Georgian Bluffs was forced to close its offices to the public, require staff to work from home and cancel meetings due to the pandemic. The municipality declared a state of emergency on March 27.
On April 1, a special meeting of council was held to amend its procedural bylaw to allow for electronic meetings. An emergency purchase of livestreaming technology was made at a cost of just under $17,000 and has been installed in the municipal building.
The 2020 draft budget had contained $20,000 for the technology and work was being done to start the service this year. The link to the meetings can be found on the municipality’s website with the meetings being broadcast and archived on its YouTube channel. People who want to take part in the public question period are asked to e-mail email@example.com
Interim chief administrative officer Anne Marie Shaw and acting clerk Brittany Drury both said they don’t expect council’s meetings to be as long as the one on Wednesday because there are limits on what municipalities can do because of the provincial emergency declaration.
“It has been a challenge to reimagine our work environment, ensuring that we are keeping staff safe, that we are social distancing and still keeping the services moving forward at the township,” Shaw said. “Certainly it has been different working conditions the last four weeks.”
Council decided to delay passing its budget due to the pandemic. The draft budget, with a proposed 1.72 per cent tax rate decrease, had been presented to council and the public in late January for review. It was to be brought back with a few changes at a later date, but that didn’t happen before the pandemic struck.
Director of finance Kassie Rocca said her biggest concern is that they wouldn’t get the appropriate public feedback if the budget is passed now.
“Electronic meetings are still very new for all of us and we are working out the kinks, so until we can ensure we get appropriate public feedback on this, I don’t want to see us pass the budget at this time,” Rocca said, adding that work will continue to explore ways that public can become more engaged in the process during electronic meetings.
Rocca said operations in the municipality aren’t being hindered by not having a budget passed.
“Our purchasing bylaw requires that anything over $5,000 has to be reported to council if it is not in the budget anyways,” said Rocca. “That means that aside from anything routine, staff will just have bring reports forward to approve purchases.”
Rocca said because the municipality is dealing only with essential matters, no major purchases are being made.
Other COVID-19 matters that were discussed at the meeting, included:
— Georgian Bluffs has so far decided not to follow the moves of some other local municipalities and institute a full outdoor fire ban, although outdoor fires are banned in some parts of the municipality.
Portions of Georgian Bluffs, including all of the former Keppel Township and a portion of the former Derby Township fall within the Ontario’s Restricted Fire Zone, in which the province has placed a burn ban. All burning permits are cancelled and no open fires are allowed in the restricted zone.
Shaw said she spoke with fire officials at the Inter Township Fire Department, who recommended not putting a fire ban in place municipality wide so residents could still enjoy a backyard fire while at their homes.
All Bruce County municipalities have banned outdoor fires for the time being and some Grey County municipalities have too.
— Campgrounds in Georgian Bluffs have been closed, except to those whose only address is at the campground. Shaw said they are reaching out to local campgrounds and RV parks to make sure they are aware of the provincial order. Boat launches, recreational facilities such as community centres and outdoor recreational facilities in the municipality have also been closed.
— Georgian Bluffs is waiting for some clarification from the province if the reconstruction project on Inglis Falls Road can continue. Burley said the municipality relies on the province for directives on what can and cannot proceed and they want to get clarification if it is still deemed essential. He said he feels that since the job has started and leaving the road in the condition it is is a safety concern, he is hopeful it will continue. The municipality expects to hear back from the province by the end of the week.
— Finance, public works, planning and building departments are still operating, but are subject to some limitations, Shaw said.
The public can visit the Georgian Bluffs website at georgianbluffs.ca for COVID-19 measures that have been implemented, contact information and the latest updates.