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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Council meeting notes - Monday, October 4

by Sylene Argent

Council directs admin to seek legal advice on fence dispute

Essex Council passed a motion to receive the presentations made by Lynn O’Brien, who requested an exemption from Section 9 of the Fence By-Law 384, and Nicole Meloche, who was opposed. Council also advised administration to get a legal opinion on the matter.

  O’Brien wanted to be permitted to build a fence beyond the maximum height of 1.8 metres.

  Kevin Carter, Chief Building Official, said when someone has an issue that is contrary to the By-Law, the proponent is helped with options. In this particular case, there was no other option other than O’Brien to come to Council and ask for a site-specific amendment for her fence. He suggested the Town get a legal opinion, which several Councillors voiced support for.

  “It’s a tough one, but I think that’s the right decision,” Mayor Larry Snively said.

 

COVID-19 vaccination policy deferred so Council can discuss matter further

A majority Council vote passed Councillor Steve Bjorkman’s motion to defer passing a COVID-19 vaccination policy that would apply to Town staff, Committee members, and Councillors.

  Bjorkman brought the motion forward as he believed Council needed to talk further on the matter before the next meeting to give administration direction on how to proceed. He would like a special meeting to be held on this matter.

  Five members of Council were in favour of his motion.

  CAO Doug Sweet explained administration was presenting a draft mandatory staff vaccination policy. He said the Town of Essex would be the last local municipality to bring a report to their Council.

  He said administration’s recommendations are similar to several surrounding municipalities.

  “The Town of Essex is committed to providing a safe working environment for our staff, and the Town has a legislative obligation and responsibility to take every precaution reasonable for the protection of the health and safety of our workers,” Sweet said. “Vaccination is a key element in the protection of Town staff and the public against the hazard of COVID-19.”

  The draft policy, he added, is designed to maximize COVID-19 rates amongst staff. The purpose of the COVID-19 draft vaccination policy is to confirm the expectations and requirements of staff with respect to COVID-19 and vaccinations.

  “This policy will be amended from time-to-time to ensure it is current with the Ministry of Health and local public Health Unit guidance on vaccinations and boosters,” Sweet said.

  In the draft policy, staff will be required to declare vaccination status, by selecting one of seven options, then follow the corresponding requirements. Administration is requiring staff declare one of seven options by October 13.

  Manager of Human Resources, Brandi Sieben, said the seven options helped provide balance of legally protecting the health and safety of employees, while ensuring a personal choice.

  The first option has the employee consent to provide vaccination status and confirm being fully vaccinated. The second option has the employee consent to provide vaccination status and confirm the first dose, with intention to be fully vaccinated by the Town’s selected date of November 17.

  The remaining options, Sieben said, require the employee take an educational program on COVID-19 vaccinations.

  Option three confirms consent to confirm vaccine status, but noted the employee is unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons. These individuals will need to complete rapid testing every 72-hours. Option 4 would include a bona fide religious exemption and would also have to complete rapid antigen testing every 72-hours. The cost of the testing for these two options, she added, would be covered by the Town.

  Option five includes confirming vaccination status, but elects not to be vaccinated for personal matters. These individuals would have to complete rapid antigen testing every 72-hours. This individual would have to pay for the testing.

  Committee or Council members who chose not to vaccinate would have to be tested before entering a Town facility, they would have to provide a rapid antigen testing that is no older than 48-hours.

  The sixth option is not consenting to provide vaccine status and complete rapid antigen testing every 72-hours at their own cost.

  Option seven includes not consenting to provide vaccine status and refusing to complete rapid antigen testing every 72-hours at own cost, or consenting to provide vaccine status, but electing not to be vaccinated and refusing to complete rapid antigen testing every 72-hours.

  For employees who choose option seven, they will be put on unpaid leave and may be subject to disciplinary action, which could include termination, Sieben said. She said senior management does not want to terminate employees. Committee members and Councillors would be unable to attend facilities, but could still participate virtually.

  If an employee does not respond by October 13, they will be considered on unpaid leave until vaccination status is provided.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman asked if there is an expiry date on the policy. Sieben said there is not necessarily an expiry date, but the Town will follow provincial and health unit guidance. Administration believes reviewing the policy every three-months would be appropriate.

  Bjorkman wants to see a time limit when this is brought back to Council. He said this is not a forever policy and is something put in place to fight a specific virus.

  Councillor Joe Garon said, “We are giving them choices, but in reality, the choice is either get vaccinated or don’t work and you don’t get paid, or you pay for your own weekly testing.” He asked how much the tests cost. Sieben said the tests are $40.

  He asked if the Town is looking at employees who do their job from home. Sieben said not currently. He asked if this is something that could be added as an option. Sweet said the policy is to maximize COVID-19 vaccination rates among Town staff.

  For twenty-months, there have been many measures and regulations put in place. “I do not believe the Town of Essex has been at risk,” Garon said, asking if it could be shared publicly how many positive cases have been identified in Town employees since the start of the Pandemic and since vaccinations have been out.    

  Sieben said she would not have the total number of cases for the Town of Essex employees. Garon asked if it was greater or less than ten. Sieben said there have been ten or less over the entire pandemic.

  Garon pushed for the number since the vaccinations have been out. Sieben said she does not think she could answer that because staff had different vaccination times.

  He suggested that if the policy is pushed, that disciplinary action needs to be clear.

  Sweet said the intent of the policy is not to terminate. The Town would have to look at how it is affecting the level of service if extended over a longer period of time.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche was in favour of the policy as it is written. “In a time where it is difficult to make these decisions, we don’t want to see anybody disadvantaged. We are trying to do the best we can with a policy to give us as much leeway as possible,” Meloche said.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy does not believe it is within municipal jurisdiction to maximize COVID-19 vaccination rates. “We are roads. We are community service. We are not healthcare,” she said, adding the province has not mandated municipalities.

  She thinks this one is the best policy in the County. She believes no matter how it is rolled out; it is creating a divide and loopholes in confidentiality. “What we should have done, and what everybody should have done, is started with education. Wednesday afternoon, every single person has education, whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated, because then you don’t have a segment that is unvaccinated just getting the education,” Bondy said.

  She said she is not comfortable passing it and it would be a big financial burden to municipalities. “I think [Premier] Doug Ford needs to step up and take the responsibility for this,” Bondy added. “I certainly do not want members of Council telling me what I can and can’t do in terms of medical decisions.” She said no one on Council is a doctor.

Each time a booster comes up, this policy will be up for amendment, Bondy added.

  If everyone is vaccinated, does it mean you can sit in a truck without a mask, no. Are morning screening questions skipped, no. “What freedoms are we gaining back by this?” She added mental health matters. She asked if the Town was going to start asking how many drinks an employee had the day before, or french-fries, or abortions.

  “This is a lose-lose right now,” she said.

  Councillor Chris Vander Doelen said he is not an anti-vaxxer. “But it is wrong to force unwanted medical procedures on people.” He said he can’t support depriving citizens and employees their most basic right and making them second class citizens.

  He said some have natural immunities.

  “Government does not have endless, unchecked power,” he said. “It is dishonest politics to claim our employees have a choice, when the choice is to submit to our will or lose your paycheck. That is not a choice,” Vander Doelen said. “Our employees should not have to pay for the tests.”

  Vander Doelen argued the tests are not $40 each. A kit is $40 and has 17 tests, he said.

  He added employees who spend their day on a lawnmower should not be subjected to this, and should not be forced into “some re-education program by Big Brother.”

  “If we pass this, I think we are doing something totalitarian and very wrong and I am not going to be a part of it,” Vander Doelen said.

  Meloche said it is important there is a Council mandate to ensure the community is safe. And the vast majority of medical officials are saying vaccination is the best option to try to keep communities safe.  

  He is pro-vax, but does not want to force someone who does not want to be vaccinated. He believes the draft policy provides options to be tested rather than vaccinated.

  He said it is unfair to compare it to obesity. The person next to him cannot give him obesity, but they can give him COVID.

  Councillor Kim Verbeek said this is a tough matter. She thinks what the team has done is good. She believes vaccination is the best way to keep communities safe. It also has to be acknowledged that there will be a percentage of the community who do not want to be vaccinated. She struggles with the financial aspect of needing to pay for testing and how it could influence people. In options five through seven, individuals will have to cough up additional funds for the testing. Some people who are financially strapped, that does take away their choice if they can’t afford the tests, she said.

Councillor Morley Bowman said it is up to Council to provide a safe work environment. He believes the options are good. He thinks Essex’s draft policy is much more flexible than others.

  Garon added he does not believe it is Council’s role to decide what is good for others. People should have their choice. The Town of Essex has been doing its due diligence in keeping staff and visitors safe. He believes in the vaccination, but also that it needs to be up to individual choice.

  Bjorkman said the policy is about getting vaccination rates up amongst staff, and at that level, he has concerns. He believes in vaccinations. There are other good ways to keep offices safe, and none of it changes once vaccinated. The divide on the matter with Council reflects the reality of the world, he said. He suggested deferring the policy or have two readings to give time to talk to each other and Town employees.


 Caboose funds to be reallocated for Train Station chimney

Council approved the reallocation of expenditures from the Heritage Train Station Caboose project to repair the damaged chimney at the Essex Train Station.

  Jake Morassut, Manager of Parks and Facilities, said the project had grant funding and funding from the Town to repair the caboose.

  In the Report to Council, it notes Heritage Essex received grant funding for different projects and was able to contribute $8,225.90 toward the caboose, with the Town of Essex allocating $14,339. Combined, there was a total of $22,564.90 for the project.

  After issuing an RFP to a company, however, it was noted the caboose was not salvageable, unless the Town was willing to pay around $130,000.

  In the Report to Council, it notes after a meeting with Heritage Essex, it was determined the caboose was not worth salvaging. Heritage Essex offered the caboose to other Heritage groups throughout Ontario and none of them were interested in the unit. At this point, it was determined to decommission the caboose.

  Terry Jones, from the Jones Group, stated he would donate his time and resources to ensure the caboose was handled accordingly.

  In addition, bricks pieces on the chimney at the Train Station are falling off, which Morassut said is a safety concern. The funds can be transferred to pay for those repairs.

  The $8,225.90 remaining in the Heritage Essex grant must be used for historical preservation, so it can be transferred to the chimney repairs with the Town of Essex covering the remaining funds from what was allocated to the caboose.

 

Council discontinues cooling station program

Council voted to discontinue providing cooling stations during Windsor Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) heat warnings.

  Jake Morassut, Manager of Parks and Facilities, said earlier this year, Council asked administration to set-up cooling stations at certain Town-owned facilities during heat waves.

  There were instances where the program took place at four facilities this summer, Morassut said. The facilities were staffed and there was zero attendance at any of the facilities.

  With no attendance, it was recommended the program be discontinued.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche appreciated the fact the program was set up. He said he was asked by several McGregor residents about a facility to use in the case of a heat warning. They ended up having relatives help them out.

  He hopes libraries will be open next year, which are typically used for cooling stations.

  Councillor Morley Bowman would like to give authority to the CAO or the Director of Community Services in an emergency to open facilities, without having to get Council approval.  

  Morassut said the arenas are Red Cross emergency facilities, so they can be used in emergencies declared by that agency.

 

Redline Revision Request for Phase 2 of the Dalla Bona

Council approved the requested redline revisions for Phase 2 of the Dalla Bona residential subdivision, and that the Manager of Planning Services for the County of Essex be advised accordingly of Council’s decision.

  The Dalla Bona residential subdivision is located on the East Side of Queen Street, North of Colio Drive in Harrow.

  The Report to Council notes the subdivision will be developed in two phases. The second phase is set out as a series of residential blocks and future streets. The second phase has been approved in draft, but has not received final approval and is not on a registered plan of subdivision.

  In 2020, the proponent made a request for a redline amendment to relocate the stormwater pond and park onto Phase 2 lands, between Colio Drive and Graf Street, the Report to Council notes. The request for redline amendment was supported by the Town of Essex Council and subsequently approved by the Manager of Planning Services for the County of Essex.

  It has been identified that Block 43 was made larger than required by the Stormwater Management Report. Block 43 should have excluded a block for two future single detached dwellings. A request for redline amendment has been received by the Town of Essex Planning Division on behalf of the proponent for revisions to Block 43 for the creation of Block 56 to accommodate two future single detached dwellings lots, the Report to Council continues.

  It is sure nice to see ground breaking there, Mayor Larry Snively said.

 

Council approves contract for animal licensing software

Council authorized Administration to enter into a contract with Milo Animal Licensing Inc. for the procurement of their online pet licensing software, and authorized the additional revenues and expenditures outside of the 2021 approved budget in the amount of $4,123.54 of revenues and $6,085.33 of expenditures, with the net impact of $1,961.79 to be funded through the approved 2021 animal control operating budget.

  Council also authorized the pre-approval of the 2022 revenues of $10,288.80 and expenses of $12,724.38; and authorized the implementation of a convenience fee for all credit card transactions through the Milo Software of $1.10 per transaction, to be evaluated and adjusted annually through the Fees and Charges By-law.

  Deputy Clerk, Shelley Brown, said this licensing will allow dog owners to renew licenses online.

  Residents can still go into town hall to pay.

Councillor Sherry Bondy asked if an owner can report when a dog passes. Brown said residents will have to call the Town to make the notification.

Essex Council notes for Monday, October 4, 2021, will be continued in the October 14 issue of the Essex Free Press.

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