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Are parks getting the care they need right now? Photo: Sienna Frost.

CAO peppered with questions from councillors about city services

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Are parks getting the care they need right now? Photo: Sienna Frost.

Councillors inundated the city’s chief administrative officer, Ron Taylor, at council this week with questions on the return of city services and facilities.

Taylor was delivering his monthly state-of-emergency update but faced questions from nearly all councillors – especially about city services that are not currently being delivered to citizens at pre-pandemic levels.

The CAO believes the provincial state of emergency will be extended to July 15.

Some highlights:

  • On June 26 eight additional public washrooms will re-open throughout the city.
  • On July 3 the Somerville landfill will re-open to full service.
  • Pickup services by appointment are expected to be available at the Bobcaygeon and Omemee public library branches sometime in early July.
  • Despite the improving situation across the province, Taylor believes that community centres and arenas will be closed for the foreseeable future.

Additional sources of funding being made available to Canada’s cash strapped municipalities are a “top of mind” for Taylor and his staff.

“The federal government announced $14 billion in funding recently to provinces and the territories. Some of that money is for municipal core service delivery and recovery,” Taylor stated. “The city is pushing for a continuation of reliable funding from the provincial and federal government moving forward.”

Without this additional funding, municipalities will be facing a daunting task according to Taylor. Staff is monitoring the city’s finances on a weekly basis.

Labour says province, feds must help more

The state of the municipality’s finances is also on the mind of James Mulhern, president of the Lindsay & District Labour Council. He says lost revenue due to COVID-19 will have a devastating impact on local governments when they need to deliver “vital services we all rely on.”

The local union rep is calling on the provincial and federal governments to do more for municipalities.

For Kawartha Lakes, the current revenue loss due to COVID-19 stands at $3.2 million, Mulhern notes.

“The emerging municipal crisis could act as a destabilizing force for our national economy,” and create mass funding shortfalls at the municipal level, he says.

Mulhern notes this could result in “significant delays in local economic recovery and an increase in the numbers of community members who are experiencing lay off, reduced wages or job loss.”

The Canadian Labour Congress has asked for immediate action from the provincial and federal government to provide emergency funding for municipalities to protect local services.

Enough City Staff?

Taylor notes that every new city service re-opened has a two-week lag, “as we have to re-activate staff and prepare.”

Councillor Pat O’Reilly wanted to know if the city had enough staff in the right places to expedite re-openings. He also inquired if there had been any infrastructure announcements since the last council meeting.

“We have had no problems re-deploying staff to where they are needed,” Taylor responded.

On the issue of infrastructure he confirmed that apart from some new money made available for transit there was nothing else on the city’s radar screen.

Councillor Ron Ashmore wanted to know when city service centres will re-open, and when the smaller libraries like the one in Dunsford are likely to start circulating again.

“There will be an update on service centres in July, “Taylor promised.

Taylor added that decisions about library re-openings are in the hands of the library board and they and they alone will determine the re-opening schedule for the smaller branches throughout the city.

Councillor Andrew Veale, who is the council representative on the library board, told Ashmore discussions are ongoing about the smaller branches but not to expect them open anytime soon.

Councillor Emmett Yeo re-focused the discussion with Taylor on the city’s duty of care regarding parks and beaches. The councillor shared that the Norland beach and park area have become a mess and wanted to know if the city is planning to do anything about it. Yeo has had a number of complaints for residents in the area and needed an answer.

“We have provided very limited care up to this point and service crews are soon to be sent out to begin grooming the beach and cleaning up the garbage,” Taylor told the councillor.

Councillor Tracy Richardson shared with her fellow councillors that the Manvers Arena is trying to get commitments from their user groups by July 9 so long-term planning for 2020-2021 can begin.

Garbage and the condition of city parks became an issue again when Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan pressed Taylor.

“More people are using the parks. Clearly staffing is not enough,” said Seymour-Fagan. “No one is picking up the garbage. Do we need more staff?”

The CAO admitted, “We are not delivering the same level of services that we have been before. The absence of student staff is hurting our attempts at beach and park cleanup.”

“The public needs to know we didn’t hire summer students and the impact on the parks especially,” Seymour-Fagan said.

Taylor hopes that recently re-hired staff will soon be better able to clean up the city’s beaches and parks starting in the next few weeks.

–with files from Roderick Benns

Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.

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