For the foreseeable future, Harrison Hot Springs Council meetings will be moving online.
During their Monday meeting, the village council unanimously approved steps to bring meetings to the online meeting platform Zoom. According to village officials, the village has used Zoom in smaller capacities throughout the pandemic but have up until now not had the resources to bring it to a larger scale for council meetings.
By approving these steps, the council complies with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s amended orders prohibiting in-person public attendance to public hearings and meetings while still allowing for online engagement. Mayor and Council will attend via their personal devices and the public is welcome to attend in the same manner – through the Zoom app or by calling in to a designated phone number. A question period would open up to the public toward the end of the meeting, in which they may ask questions about agenda items.
A village staffer would be on hand to moderate the meeting and members of the village staff usually present at council meetings would attend in-person at Memorial Hall.
The village received $675,000 as part of the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant for Local Government from the province. This is a conditional grant from the government with broad criteria, including addressing revenue shortfalls as a result of the pandemic, reopening and operating costs and emergency and protective services. The council approved the use of $167,000 of the grant to cover additional costs incurred in 2020; some of the top items included additional sanitation measures, technological upgrades for remote meetings and engagement and additional bylaw officers and flaggers.
$7,000 of the same grant is to be used to make the appropriate upgrades for Zoom council meetings; part of this cost includes Zoom licensing fees, which in this case would allow for up to 500 participants. The original recommendation was $6,000 until council approved an amendment from Coun. Samantha Piper that would bump up the meeting capacity from 100 to 500 participants.
An additional $2,000 was allocated next year’s budget for additional labour costs related to tech support during the online meetings.
There were a few audio issues and a couple quick video glitches during the hour-and-a-half meeting video but the new setup seemed to work well. All village officials present were wearing masks and were socially distanced.
The issue of moving meetings to Zoom was the subject of extended and at times passionate discussion during last month’s council meeting, in which the Harrison Hot Springs Residents Association advocated for live, online accessibility for concerned villagers unable to attend the meetings in person. The village has since brought recording equipment from the normal council chambers to Memorial Hall and resumed archiving meetings on YouTube. Officials have also launched GetIntoItHarrison.ca, in which residents can make their voices heard on a number of select, upcoming projects.
In other council business, Mayor Leo Facio announced to council that the permit for the proposed quarry on Hot Springs Road has been denied after a battle of nearly three years.
“Kudos to all the committee members who put a lot of effort into this and all the petitions that went through to Victoria and our MLAs…our MPs and of course our First Nations communities as well that were supportive of the concerns from the village of Harrison Hot Springs,” Mayor Facio said.
The council approved up to $26,000 from the fire department reserves to buy a new air fill compressor and an additional $200,000 from surplus to be used to supplement the purchase of a primary fire pumper truck. The council also approved increasing the firefighters for the department from 23 to 26.
Resident John Allen emailed a request on Wednesday, Dec. 2, to appear as a delegation before village council to “speak to the councillors about the need for our community hall to serve the community better.” However, due to the recent health orders from provincial authorities, a regular delegation was not an option; the orders went into effect two days after Allen’s email correspondence and three days ahead of the Dec. 7 council meeting.
The council approved $15,000 from the Safe Restart Grant be provided to the Harrison Festival Society.
The council also approved of an application for grant funding for the access road to Harrison Hot Springs Waste Water Treatment Plant. The application would seek up to $425,000 to upgrade the access road and corresponding flood mitigation.
The next regular council meeting will be conducted via Zoom at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 21. The link and/or phone number to listen in and participate will be posted on the Observer website at www.agassizharrisonobserver.com.
In an effort to curb COVID-19 spread, those who go to public indoor spaces throughout the village will be required to wear proper protective masks and practice social distancing. If you have symptoms of a cold or of COVID-19 (fever, coughing, fatigue), please stay home.
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