Northeast Town meets electronically for first time
Acknowledging the need for physical distancing in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, council for the Northeast Town met virtually during its March 31 meeting for the first time, utilizing the Zoom video conferencing application.
To begin, council made an amendment to its procedural bylaw, Bylaw 99-36, specifically items 5-7: that members of council can attend council meetings through electronic methods and be counted toward quorum; that council can participate electronically in a closed meeting; and in the case of a ‘declare emergency order’ by the premier, “the cabinet or municipal head of council under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, members of councils, committees and local boards who participate in open and closed meeting electronically can be counted for the purpose of quorum.”
Council reviewed the letter from M’Chigeeng Ogimaa-kwe Linda Debassige requesting a donation toward the ventilator campaign for the two sites of the Manitoulin Health Centre.
“After speaking with our representative at the hospital and hearing the issues facing them, there may be better ways to support them. They have sufficient money to order the number of ventilators they need and can manage,” Mayor Al MacNevin told councillors.
The mayor suggested council defer a donation and wait for a response from MHC “as to the best way they can help to battle the pandemic.”
“I think we should wait and see exactly where we’re going with this and hold off on it,” said Councillor Bill Koehler.
“I concur to go with your plan and wait and see about requirements from the hospital,” Councillor Barb Baker added.
“When the hospital requires something, we should assist them,” Councillor Dawn Orr said, adding that the public needs to know this. The mayor pointed out that the press was on the call.
“We need to make it clear that the MHC knows that we will step up where needed,” said Councillor Michael Erskine.
“And that’s what we’re working toward with the hospital,” the mayor said.
Councillor Bruce Wood said he “totally agrees” that council should wait and see what the hospital needs in terms of support with Councillor Laurie Cook also voicing her agreement.
“We’re still too early into this pandemic and don’t know how things will progress,” Councillor Al Boyd said. “Certainly it was a good thing that Chief Debassige did and it seems she attained her goals.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this meeting was held, the Northeast Town has leased its recreation centre to the MHC as a COVID-19 sub-acute care centre.
Taxpayer financial relief
Council suggested three proposals for taxpayer financial relief: Extend the due date on all current and future charges for water/sewer and taxes to 90 days from 30 days. This will have the effect of eliminating interest on April 1 water/sewer bills and the second installment on the interim taxes for 90 days. This measure will provide NEMI residents with approximately $40,884 in financial relief over the next three months. Interest would continue to accumulate on any balance that predated the COVID-19 outbreak; double the base amount of water permitted to be used from 45 cubic metres to 90 cubic metres per billing period (three months). This will provide $45,000 of relief to the users on the system; and suspend all new tax registrations for the next three months.
The proposals were moved by Councillor Cook and seconded by Councillor Erskine.
Councillor Baker asked if council increased the water limit, would this push the municipality over its allowable limit as per ministry order. CAO Dave Williamson said it would not.
Councillor Jim Ferguson asked if the relief proposals could be extended if the pandemic goes on longer than anticipated.
“It’s always at council’s discretion and can be extended on past 90 days at council’s will,” Mr. Williamson explained.
Councillor Cook said she still has a concern about the interest rate and said she would like to revisit a motion she made at a previous meeting to put a moratorium on water rates interest, which had been defeated at that time.
“We looked at it from the point that we don’t want to disadvantage anyone who’s already paid their taxes,” the CAO said.
“I’m just very happy we’re doing something for the taxpayers,” Councillor Cook responded.
“What about the extra amount of water being put into the lagoon?” Councillor Koehler asked.
“It won’t change dramatically,” Mr. Williamson responded, adding that the municipality is prepared to undertake an early discharge.
It was decided that the start date for non-accumulating interest would be in effect as of the meeting date, March 31.
Council received word that it had received $196,500 in FedNor funding for climate adaptation, which will be used toward downtown dock infrastructure to maintain access during times of high water levels.
A motion was made to approve the funding. (Please see more on high water levels on Page 1 of this newspaper.)
Mayor MacNevin shared that he and Mr. Williamson have been involved with weekly phone calls with the Island emergency health committee comprised of municipalities, First Nations and other community health organizations.
The mayor noted the hospital’s personal protective equipment (PPE) drive, the need for test kits and spoke of the two COVID-19 assessment centres.
The mayor told council he also sits in on a weekly Public Health and Sudbury District meeting.
“I think all of us can be helpful in turning people to the Expositor who will pair people up with volunteers,” Mayor MacNevin said of the community’s vulnerable citizens. “We have also released some press releases when there is new information.”
Councillor Cook asked at what point does a municipality declare a state of emergency.
The mayor explained it’s a tricky question to answer but that such a declaration needs to be made by the mayor in conjunction with other community services and, of course, council.
“We would do so if there were not sufficient resources to manage the state we’re in,” he explained. “I would say we’re not in a state to not be able to handle what’s happening, but as soon as that does happen, we would consult the emergency planning people.”
Mr. Williamson reminded council that municipal staff are working in ‘pods,’ which means no mingling of Sheguiandah and Little Current public works crews or ‘upstairs and downstairs’ municipal staff in the downtown Little Current municipal office.
He again noted that roads, garbage and water are the Northeast Town’s priority and, as such, the landfill hours have been extended to Sundays effective immediately. The extended hours are designed to help people social distance with their choice of three landfill days per week (Tuesdays and Saturdays are the other days). Mr. Williamson noted that at this point, there has been no issue with people gathering together at the landfill.
Additional bins have also been placed in the downtown core.
“It’s spring so we’re dealing with ‘percolating’ roads,” the CAO said.
He noted that all the parks and trails in the municipality are now closed by provincial order, including the Cup and Saucer, which encourages visitors to stay away.
Mr. Williamson spoke about the issues with the downtown Little Current sewage lift station which saw both pumps fail due to residents flushing improper items such as wipes, gloves and paper towels.
Councillor Ferguson commended staff for ensuring that essential services in the municipal are being looked after to the highest standard during this time. “I’m happy we’ve taken the stand that we’re going above and beyond. Great job, thank you.”