CAO for Kawartha Lakes, Ron Taylor, provided cautiously optimistic pandemic and service updates to council at their regular October meeting earlier this week.
He let council know where the province and city are in their response to the pandemic, and what city services are coming back on line as the end of October approaches. Taylor also shared his concerns about the impact to city services if the bulk of seasonal residents do not return home to their primary residences.
Taylor began by reminding council that the extended provincial order is set to expire on Oct. 22, but because of a troubling increase in COVID cases in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) he expects the province to extend the order for another 28 days.
Kawartha Lakes is monitoring the situation in the GTA closely, and has heard nothing from either public health or the province that would indicate that the city will have to revert to a modified Stage Two like Toronto, Peel and Ottawa.
“We have six arenas open and booked,” Taylor said, “and demand appears good for the facilities moving forward.”
“The provincial offences court is still closed and it is unlikely it will re-open this month,” Taylor continued, “but I expect it may go partially virtual sometime in November.”
“CKL community halls and arena halls are reporting minimal bookings, while there has been only modest traffic to service centers in Coboconk and Omemee,” Taylor said.
Taylor continued his facility-based focus saying that city administrative buildings will remain closed and council, boards, committee and advisory committee meetings will remain electronic for the foreseeable future.
The CAO also told council that funding is in place through 2021 for the homeless shelter, A Place Called Home, which will continue to have to place clients in local hotels to meet the provincial COVID health and safety regulations.
Service reviews are under way across the city that will soon allow landfill sites to take cash again. Taylor also informed council that the Lindsay Service Centre will re-open Nov. 16.
Taylor told council that the city is also looking at service changes and reviewing winter service delivery because he expects the bulk of the 25,000 seasonal residents to stay this winter.
“This could lead to a 25 per cent increase in the population,” Taylor said, “and many of these people live in isolated parts of the city. We are trying to figure out the impact on plowing, EMS and fire services as we speak.”
Taylor shared with council that he is pleased that there have been minimal service disruptions due to COVID, and that the city continues to be on the path to a break-even budget for 2020.
“I do not believe we are out of the response phase for COVID yet,” Taylor said, “We are not leaping to return to full services across the board. Demand will determine when there is a full return to services.”
Taylor then opened up the floor to questions, and there were a number beginning with Deputy Mayor Patrick O’Reilly.
O’Reilly asked if the city had enough snow plow truck drivers for the winter.
“We have been very pro-active in recruitment and because many of the positions have become year round jobs they are far more attractive and fully staffed,” Taylor replied.
Councillor Seymour-Fagan posed three human resources questions to the CAO wondering about staffing levels, changes in COVID screening and how COVID sick days are being treated by the city.
“We are fully staffed,” Taylor began, “and only the questions asked during the screening protocol have changed.”
Taylor said that the same questions are asked daily, and if staff answers positively to any one of them they are sent home, and in some cases asked to get tested.
“Thirty-three staff have been sent home,” Taylor told Seymour-Fagan, “and over half have been tested.”
Seymour-Fagan wanted to know if the days at home are being catalogued as sick days or COVID days that may be paid out of a different line item in the budget.
“Depending upon how the staff member is feeling we prefer they work from home (while waiting for test results) and if it becomes a multi-day absence the days come from the staff’s entitled sick leave plan,” Taylor said.