The 2021 budget was on the minds of South Algonquin council at their Nov. 4 council meeting. They talked about how to proceed with next year’s budget and what they hope to accomplish. In her staff report to council on this subject, Holly Hayes, the township’s clerk and treasurer, suggested preparing a reduced capital budget that would be lower stress for the operations staff, due to the pressures and restrictions imposed by COVID-19 over much of this year. The reaction to this report was mixed, so the issue was deferred for further discussion at the township’s next Asset Management meeting on Nov. 25 and the December council meeting.
Hayes stressed in her report to council that the impact of COVID-19 has had a profound impact and presented many obstacles to township staff throughout 2020 and it has been predicted that these pressures will continue on until 2022, a concern that she first brought forward at the township’s Oct. 21 Human Resources, Administration and Public Relations meeting. She acknowledged the hard work, persistence and dedication of staff who had so much extra work to do with the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 and the resulting stress that it has brought on.
Hayes suggested that in light of this stress the township should use its 2021 capital to: continue with branding, implement recommendations from the modernization study, complete a road needs study, purchase asset management software and update the plan and develop a broadband plan. Additionally, she also suggested the following capital projects; completing the improvements to the Aylen Lake parking within the existing land use planning, finishing the Galeairy Lake Park outhouse, fixing the gazebo in Galeairy Lake Park, and undertaking drainage improvements around the township. Hayes suggests that in light of the fact that the amount of road work is being reduced that staff can suggest any investments in equipment as needed in the budget.
With provincial funding being provided for COVID-19 related costs, Hayes also proposed two additional health days for COVID-19 stress relief. The estimated cost of one wellness day for each staff member would be about $2,500, according to Hayes’ report.
Dumas was glad Hayes brought that up, and said that coincidentally, she’d been talking with their MPP John Yakabuski about the COVID-19 funding.
“He wanted the assurance that we were looking after our staff and that the money was going forward and that it was supporting things that would be beneficial to our staff and the recognition of the stress and the changes in processes and all the concerns in regards to COVID-19, so I certainly think this is a good recommendation,” she says.
Hayes told council that she had wanted to put all this forward to them as they were starting the budget and she wanted some feedback on what approach to take.
Dumas asked if there were any comments on the process that Hayes had described to them, as they start to get into their budgeting for next year.
Councillor Joe Florent spoke up, and said that he understood the reasoning for putting things on hold for a year or more because of the ongoing pandemic.
“However, the longer we delay some of the repairs, the more expensive it gets. And we’ve already put off some of the repairing or Major Lake Road in Madawaska for this year. If we put it off for another year, the final cost is probably going to be 30 to 40 per cent higher than when we initially talked about it. For the most part, it’s repaving it. It doesn’t require a lot of work from our staff. It would pretty well be 100 per cent from a contractor,” he says.
Dumas said that was a fair comment, and they would take that under advisement into the budgetary process.
Councillor Richard Shalla also had a comment.
“We had talked about various projects, and Hay Lake Road was on there. I’m not sure whether that is part of the drainage improvements. But also, we’re in dire need of gravel on all the other roads within Sabine ward and I don’t know, that’s likely put on by a contractor also. How much time from the township I don’t know? I wasn’t sure if we were going to discuss that later at an asset management meeting, but I didn’t want it to slip by,” he says.
Dumas thanked Shalla for his comments and said they’d be taking that to the next asset management meeting for the budgeting process.
Hayes reiterated that the focus of her report was to cut the capital back in the upcoming 2021 budget and focus on doing less this year, in light of the impact that COVID-19 has had and continues to have.
“This was just a summary of what we’re hoping to accomplish in the 2021 budget. I just wanted to put this forward as we’ve already started the budget and I just wanted some feedback, either that we were going to take this approach or some direction otherwise,” she says.
Council decided to leave the resolution on this report on the table, and will continue to discuss how to proceed with the budget and what to include in it at the next asset management meeting on Nov. 25 and at the next council meeting in December.
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times