Trying to follow the financial bouncing ball
by Roger Varley
“We’re not here to finalize the property tax increases.”
With those words, Councillor Bruce Garrod, chair of the finance committee, opened Tuesday’s session of the ongoing budget talks. His remark underlined the difficulty of arriving at final expenditure and revenue figures in light of the continuing COVID-19 crisis. Even as late as Tuesday, council was having to deal with bouncing numbers.
As treasurer Donna Condon pointed out in a report, the province’s decision to move all of Ontario into the grey zone on Dec. 26 resulted in further revenue losses from the arena and Uxpool, losses which have had to be covered by laying off some township staff. Mayor Dave Barton proposed that instead of waiting to see what the province does at the end of January, the ice should be taken out of the arena before the end of the month to obtain some savings in hydro costs.
Recreation director Amanda Ferraro, noting the ice could be taken out over the space of a couple of days, added that the Uxbridge Bruins‘ 2020-21 season is not going to happen at all.
“They’ve already hung their towel up,” she said.
The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus also saw the by-law department’s request for additional hours turned down. Chief by-law officer Kristina Bergeron had asked that the parking officer be elevated to the position of by-law officer and that by-law officers’ hours be extended. Clerk Debbie Leroux noted the department had “never seen such a volume of complaints” as in 2020.
Barton said the budget would not allow for all of Bergeron’s requests but the parking officer was elevated to by-law officer. He said it would be unfair to extend by-law’s hours while asking other departments to cut back.
The proposed new animal shelter remains in limbo, leading Barton to suggest that $35,000 earmarked to go into the animal shelter reserve this year be withheld. He said the $35,000 wouldn’t make much difference once construction starts, but it would have a big impact on the 2021 budget.
Garrod has scheduled an additional budget meeting for next Tuesday at 1 p.m., at which time Condon is expected to present the overall budget for approval.
TOWN HALL NOTES from the January 11 council meeting
by Roger Varley
Council deals with COVID-19 effects: COVID-19 dominated at Monday’s council meeting and subsequent budget meeting, with no councillors believing that the municipality will be out of the provincial “grey zone” before the end of March. Such is the impact of the coronavirus that a report written by treasurer Donna Condon last week was already out of date by the time council discussed it Monday.
Condon’s report said that because the provincial government moved all of Ontario into the grey zone on Dec. 26, it resulted in the loss of over $80,000 revenue from the closed arena and Uxpool. To cover that lost revenue, the township has had to lay off some staff.
Councillor Bruce Garrod, chair of the finance committee, recommended that council’s budget discussions proceed on the assumption that the first quarter will see Uxbridge remain in the grey zone and the second quarter will have the township in the red zone.
Given that scenario, Mayor Dave Barton offered that there will be no hockey at all at the arena this winter, and at Tuesday’s budget meeting, council agreed to have the arena staff remove the ice surfaces before the end of the month in order to save some hydro costs.
Universal playground coming to Elgin Park: Members of the Uxbridge Lions Club appeared before council Monday to provide more details about their proposed universal playground for Elgin Park.
Bob Armitage and Sally Kotsopoulos gave a presentation showing some of the equipment and ideas being considered for the playground, which would be accessible to all, regardless of disability. Armitage said the estimated cost is $300,000. He said council offered $50,000 to the cause when the Lions first estimated the playground would cost $150,000. Now he was asking council to increase that amount to $100,000.
Mayor Barton said he was concerned the Lions’ figures were “way under cost” and opined the project could even balloon to as much as $750,000. The Lions responded that although they would prefer to construct the playground in one build, it could be done in stages. They also said the size of the proposed site would limit their ability to build a higher priced playground.
Armitage said fundraising for the project has already begun and the service club is looking at applying for grants.
The equipment in the playground, such as swings and roundabouts, would be accessible to children in wheelchairs and would also provide sensory experiences with musical stations and features constructed of natural materials.
Council passes nuisance bylaw: Council unanimously passed a new public nuisance bylaw without any debate. Mayor Barton said the by-law is needed because the township has to have a system to deal with people causing problems.
One part of the by-law prohibits “loitering.” Asked how many complaints had been registered about loitering, clerk Debbie Leroux said there have been none, but added there could be a situation where someone is standing by a store entrance hindering customers.
“This allows us to deal with the situation,” she said.
Leroux said the by-law department has handled complaints about noisy parties and school students hanging around schools.
Chief by-law officer Kristina Bergeron said the goal of the by-law is “to obtain compliance, not to give tickets.”
Mill Street development still rankles: In a deputation to council, resident Rob Miller said an application by the developer of the proposed condominium project at 62 Mill Street to the township’s Committee of Adjustment for a variance in building heights should be denied.
Miller, whose property abuts the development site, said the developer keeps “chipping away” at requirements to obtain what they want.
The application to the Committee of Adjustment seeks to overturn a requirement that houses built on the site should not be higher than 9.1 metres, the height of the roof ridge on the heritage house once owned by Isaac Gould, which still sits on the site.
Doug Moffatt, in another deputation, expressed concern that the Gould house could be badly damaged or even destroyed if an attempt is made to move the structure to the front of the property.
The application will be dealt with at the COA’s meeting on Jan. 20.
New COVID measures, more local enforcement
by Justyne Edgell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
“Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives” – that’s the motto for the week as Ontario hits another COVID-19 milestone, reaching more than 5,000 deaths from the virus. In light of this statistic, new measures that the province has announced gives local by-law officers more authority to ensure the public complies with the new measures, as well as authority to ticket and fine those who don’t.
On Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the second state of emergency for the province, effective immediately, along with a mandatory stay-at-home order, commencing today (Thursday). These new restrictions require all Ontarians to stay at home unless going to grocery stores, pharmacies, or medical appointments.
Further restrictions will be in place for workplaces. All non-essential retail stores, including hardware stores, alcohol retailers, and those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must open no earlier than 7 a.m. and close by 8 p.m.
Under the Reopening Ontario Act, both individuals and businesses that do not fall in line with these newly imposed measures could face fines and up to a year in jail, according to the Solicitor General.
Uxbridge By-Law Services said Tuesday that enforcement of the measures continues to be a joint effort between municipal law enforcement officers, the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS), the Region of Durham Health Department, and various government of Ontario provincial offences officers.
Kristina Bergeron, manager of Uxbridge By-Law Services, said that enforcement will be conducted both proactively and complaint based.
“If residents have observed a violation, they are asked to report the violation to the Durham Regional Police Service non-emergency number at 905-579-1520 or submit a complaint online at www.drps.ca under Online Services – Community Concerns. DRPS is the main point of contact for complaints, and matters deemed required to be addressed by municipal law enforcement will be dispensed to us through DRPS,” said Bergeron.
On Tuesday, the province also shared new modeling data showing the infection curve set to take a steep rise in the next few weeks. With a
positivity rate of more than five percent in all age groups, a survey by the government showed that only a third of the population is actually following Public Health guidelines in a manner that will help to end the pandemic.
Dr. Matthew Anderson, president and CEO of Ontario Health, fears that Ontarians are not afraid as they were in the first wave of the virus.
“When you’re a bit younger, you feel a bit immortal. But we’re not. And we are seeing trends where people who are younger are getting COVID, and while the mortality rate may not be as high, we can certainly see continued morbidity for those people. So there’s really no one who should consider themselves immune until they are vaccinated.”
Over the past four weeks there has been a 72 per cent increase in hospitalizations and a 61 per cent increase in ICU patients. Half of the province’s hospitals have run out of capacity and can no longer take patients for emergencies such as traumas from accidents, heart attacks or emergency surgeries. This type of ICU occupancy can compromise care across the province.
As of Monday evening, another eight cases of the UK variant, V117, were found in Ontario. Dr. Anderson said that if this new strain spreads through community transmission, Ontario residents can expect to see the case curve rise close to vertical by the end of January.
By Tuesday evening, more than 133,000 doses of the COVID vaccine had been administered in Ontario, with over 6,000 Ontarians fully vaccinated with a second dose.
“We have hope on the horizon, it’s in sight, it’s in reach,” said Ford.
To get ‘herd immunity’, experts say approximately 60 to 70 per cent of the population will need to be vaccinated. A group of North Durham doctors and medical administrative staff are working to get the vaccination serum into the Uxbridge community and say that once it is here, the community will be informed.
Uxbridge has 14 active cases with one of those being hospitalized. According to the Durham Region Public Health website, both Reachview Village and Uxbridge Cottage Hospital still have outbreak status. For more, visit durham.ca/covidcases
Vigilant COVID safety measures required during outdoor activities
By Justyne Edgell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Now that a stay-at-home order has been issued by the provincial government, it’s a good time to refresh the memory on what outdoor activities can be done, and what safety protocols must be observed.
As the community slogs its way through this second wave of increasing COVID-19 cases, the Uxbridge trail system, tobogganing hills and local ponds are filling up with people. But Mayor Dave Barton opened this week’s council meeting by reminding the community of the importance of social distancing when enjoying outdoor winter fun.
“If you get to the toboggan hill and there are lots of people there, go home for a while and come back later when there are fewer people,” said Barton in his remarks.
The trails are also busy spaces. Snow shoeing, cross country skiing, biking and hiking is enticing many visitors. Just this past Saturday, at least 100 cars lined Conc. 7, just south of Uxbridge, at the Durham Regional Forest trail entrances.
While the air circulation and wide open space is comforting, healthcare experts remind the public that maintaining distance is still necessary.
Dr. Carlye Jensen, from the Uxbridge Health Centre, points out that, while outdoor transmission is low, it is not zero.
“Getting outside is a great way to relieve the pressures of lockdown. We have beautiful trails and wonderful streets to walk along. Just remember that when you are on these trails it is still important to keep your distance from those not within your bubble.”
Dr. Jensen also notes that the new variant of the COVID-19 virus appears to be more easily transmitted, and that it’s not the time to let guards – or face masks – down.
Dr. Jensen advises, “If you can’t be six feet apart, then turn your face away, wear a mask or step off the path to allow safe space between you and others.”
During its announcement on Tuesday, the provincial government recommended that everyone wear masks both indoors and out as much as possible. Tuesday’s announcement also outlined that police officers and provincial offences officers now have the authority to disperse crowds of more than five people who appear to not be from the same household, and to shut down the relevant location.
For more on the current shutdown, visit https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/59922/ontario-declares-second-provincial-emergency-to-address-covid-19-crisis-and-save-lives
COVID testing – where and who
by Justyne Edgell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ontario is now in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the province has recently updated who can get tested and where. To be eligible for testing at a COVID assessment centre you must fit into one of the following categories: be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms; have been exposed to a confirmed case of the virus, as informed by the Health Department or the COVID Alert app; be a resident or staff member of a setting that has a COVID-19 outbreak, as identified by the Health Department; be eligible for testing as part of a targeted testing initiative directed by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Long-Term Care.
If you qualify for testing at an assessment centre, below are some local options you have for testing:
Markham-Stouffville CAC: same-day appointments are available, you must first register at 289-378-2419
Ross Memorial Hospital: drive-through option (first come first serve)
Southlake Hospital: same-day appointments, you must register first by calling 905-895-4521 ext. 2162 option #1.
All those who do not qualify for testing at a COVID Assessment Centre, including those who are asymptomatic but personally wish to be tested, can be swabbed at a participating pharmacy.Social gathering counts remain at 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors, with maintained physical distancing. It is encouraged that in situations where two meters of distance between people is difficult or not possible, face coverings should be worn.
More information regarding the current situation of the COVID pandemic, testing procedures and self-assessments can be found at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/ or https://www.durham.ca/en/health-and-wellness/novel-coronavirus-update.aspx