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During the COVID-19 pandemic the Township of Muskoka Lakes offices remain closed to the public. As a result of this closure a Special Council meeting was held electronically on Wednesday, April 15th, 2020. Councillors were asked to raise their hands and keep them up during votes, as well as to hit the “raise hand” button on their electronic screens. The public was invited to submit comments during the meeting to a prearranged email address - TMLPublicComments@muskokalakes.ca - that was monitored by the Clerk.
ED Note: The Muskoka Ratepayers congratulates Council and Township staff for arranging this meeting to take place. There were a few technical issues at the beginning, then the meeting ran smoothly.
A new by-law officer and property standard officer, Rachel Miners, has been hired by the Township. As this individual is an officer of the corporation of the Township of Muskoka Lakes and will be enforcing by-laws Council was required to enact her position and approve it by by-law.
Council had no questions and the resolution carried.
ED Note: The Muskoka Ratepayers welcome Ms. Miners to her position at the Township.
Director of Public Works, Ken Becking presented to Council a report with a quote of $408,215.71 plus HST to repair the dock. Following a brief discussion, Mr. Becking stated that the bid received was significantly higher than the estimate. He agreed with Council to ask that the dock be redesigned and “re-tendered” but pointed out that doing so the dock will not be available to the public during the summer of 2020.
Council voted to proceed with a redesign of the dock.
Mr. Becking informed Council that the Beaumaris bridge has reached its “mid life” and had several material defects that needed repair. Once completed the repairs will allow the bridge to reach its “full- service life”. Council voted to award that contract in the amount of $834,057.50 plus HST contingent on the 2020 budget being approved.
Following the lead of the Province and the District of Muskoka, the Township of Muskoka Lakes passed a resolution to defer penalties for late property tax payments. Penalties would normally have gone into effect on March 27th, 2020 but have been waived until May 31st, 2020. According to Mayor Harding the Township has received “a typical” amount of tax payments and are on par with where they would usually be. This allows the Township to remit taxes to the District.
CAO Hammond provided Council with an update on how the Township senior management team has continued to provide operational activities. The report which breaks down activities by department can be read here - COVID. Activities.
During this discussion Director of Planning, David Pink was asked for clarification on planning matters. Mr. Pink informed Council that the Planning Department continues to accept applicants, review applications, draft notices, prepare reports and circulation lists as well as complete site visits remotely. This preparation will allow the department to proceed quickly when physical meetings are once again held. Mr. Pink explained that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has been given the ability to suspend all planning “timelines” and that municipalities are going to be given the option of holding planning meetings electronically. Ultimately, whether planning meetings are held or not, will be a decision of Council.
When asked about the Interim Control By-Law (ICBL) that is currently in place in Minett and set to expire on May 17th, 2020, Mr. Pink reminded Council that the Planning Act only allows an ICBL to be extended once for a total of two years. Mr. Pink stated that he believes when “timelines” are suspended, this will also include extending the ICBL. Like all municipalities, the Township will know more in coming days and weeks.
Although not included on the agenda, Council discussed keeping public boat launches open. Councillor Edwards questioned why the Township had not closed their boat launches when all private ones have been closed by law. Mayor Harding explained that he is in regular contact with all the Mayors in the District of Muskoka. The Mayors are working hard to make decisions that are united across Muskoka and to date, all except Georgian Bay, have decided not to close boat launches. One of the reasons for this decision is contractors are legally permitted to continue work and require access to island properties. Furthermore, the Province has yet to say that people are not allowed to use their boats.
“As a result of the Emergency Declaration orders issued by the Province, and requirements for social distancing during COVID-19 pandemic”, District Council and Committee meetings are being held electronically as all Municipal Offices remain closed to the public.
Under new business, Chair John Klinck reported to Council that he had attended a board meeting at the Muskoka Airport that day. The board was recommending to the District that the grass runway that runs east to west not be opened this year. This recommendation was being made due to the expected economic impact that the airport will feel and costs to prepare the runway for use. Council discussed this request with some Councillors agreeing and stating that the Airport Board were the experts and their recommendation should be followed. While other Councillors felt that Council should hear feedback from pilots as the item was “walked onto the agenda”, that public consultation was required as the closure of the runway was going to be a change in service level, that the runway was important for safety issues and that a “reflection period” to think about the request is not against the Airport Board.
Following Council’s discussion, the resolution put forth by the Airport Board was amended to say, that the grass runway would be temporarily closed until July 1st, 2020. The resolution was voted on and carried.
Commissioner of Public Works, Fred Jahn and Director of Waste Management & Environmental Services, Stephanie Mack informed the Committee about the challenges that COVID-19 has had on solid waste management in the District. Director Mack gave a lengthy presentation broken in three categories. The first portion of the presentation was on curb side collection where to date the District has not felt any impact. Other municipalities across the Province are experiencing a driver shortage and the District is making preparation in case it occurs in the District. In order to keep staff safe, the District asks that garbage being left at the curb be secured, for instance pile your blue boxes so material does not blow around. As of right now, weekly garbage pick-up will begin as scheduled on May 4th, 2020. Please note that if the District does suffer significant impact to their staff there may be a decrease in scheduled pick-ups.
The second portion of the presentation was on Transfer Stations which have seen an impact on staff and one in Lake of Bays has been temporarily closed. The District asks that for now the public only make essential trips to transfer stations. When possible hold garbage items at home or use curb side pick up. To protect public health, transfer stations do not accept cash but use new “tap” units to accept payment, have closed their “re-use” areas and have temporarily ceased diversion programs. These actions are all done for the health and safety of their staff as well as the public.
The final portion of the presentation on was bin sites. The District currently has several unstaffed and unlicensed bin sites which are posing a challenge to maintain. Staff have noticed an increase in illegal dumping at these sites and are required to clean up the messes at most of these sites daily. This causes a problem of how to transport staff and adhere to social distancing at the same time as the District can no longer ask four students to travel together to the sites. Once at the sites, clean up techniques have had to be altered for the protection of staff. There is also a concern about the level of available staffing. Currently District staff can maintain the bin sites but are unsure if they will have enough staff to do so once seasonal bins are put in place. Consultants that were hired to work on mitigating the bin sites prior to COVID-19 worked on an emergency contingency plan for the District to see where the District could add supervised garbage drop off sites following Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) direction that all drop off sites must be supervised, staffed and fenced with proper environmental controls. It was also suggested that movable garbage bins be placed at landings for certain hours, i.e.: 3 to 6 PM on Sundays to collect garbage. These bins would be for island and water access properties only.
After an in-depth discussion Committee voted to:
The District asks PLEASE DO NOT PLACE GARBAGE BAGS ON THE GROUND. It puts the public and District staff at risk!
ED Note: Please remember that the solid waste plan laid out above is a COVID-19 plan. Once the pandemic has passed the District will once again start to work on the transition plan for all unstaffed and unlicensed garbage bins.
The meeting began with members of the senior management team presenting their departments’ portion of the Draft 2020 Budget to Committee members. The Draft Budget had a net levy increase over the 2019 budget of 4.57% or $19.02 per every $500,000.00 of assessed property value. Committee then asked general questions of the budget and discussed what changes could be made to lower the levy.
Staff were asked to review the budget to attempt to lower the levy, including reducing contributions to reserves. Committee was cautioned by CAO/Acting Treasure Derrick Hammond and Director of Finance from the District Julie Stevens, that staff have concerns with extensive cuts to reserves and would not advise reducing reserve contributions. Although it was suggested that large infrastructure projects be removed and/or deferred in the 10 Year Capital Forecast, Committee was informed a couple of times that this tactic was not advisable, nor would it reduce the levy.
Committee will meet again on Friday, May 1st, 2020 to discuss Draft 2 of the budget.
Comments on the budget submitted by the Muskoka Ratepayers can be read here - Ratepayers' Budget Questions and Comments
The Muskoka Ratepayers offer a heartfelt THANK YOU to ALL who continue
to work during these unprecedented times.
Please stay safe.