The County of Haliburton declared a state of local emergency March 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council met March 17 to discuss how to respond to the situation. Each of the townships have closed facilities and municipal offices. Council decided to also close the County administrative office and council meetings are discontinued until further notice.

County chief administrative officer Mike Rutter said it is important for municipalities to take these types of steps.

“It is, I think, about leadership,” Rutter said. “If we’re trying to tell our community isolate, shelter in place, do those kinds of things. If we have a meeting, like this, we’re still bringing 10, 12 people out into the world and gathering. I’m just not sure if that’s a best practice.”

Council also discussed co-ordinating more of the response. When it comes to communication, Coun. Brent Devolin said he would like more centralization.

“Rather than five flavours, I would like one and have the County be the voice,” he said.

There was some uncertainty about whether to close township administrative offices. Coun. Cec Ryall said it was paramount to reduce contact.

“Any contact, direct contact that we can reduce between our staff and the public is absolutely paramount. We have to make sure our staff is unexposed to anything that would hurt them in any way, shape, or form,” he said.

However, councillors noted the challenges, especially such as people visiting to pay taxes. Coun. Andrea Roberts said with the County closing its office, the lower-tier townships would probably be expected too as well.

“It’s harder because we do have more people coming in paying tax bills,” she said. “It’s going to be quite a challenge to close our office to the public.”

Councillors discussed possibilities if offices are closed and options that could be provided, such as having people call ahead for necessary office visits, mail slot dropoffs and quick phone call responses.

“A huge volume of trust issues here,” Warden Liz Danielsen said. “We’re just going to have to rely on our residents to the greatest extent we can.”

Municipalities closing facilities

Each one of the lower-tier municipalities have implemented closures as of March 19, 4 p.m. All municipal offices and community centres are closed including:

• Algonquin Highlands has closed its community centres, including those in Stanhope, Dorset and Oxtongue Lake. All programming and events at these facilities are cancelled. The airport terminal building and water trails office are also closed.

• Dysart et al is closing its community centres, including A.J. LaRue Arena, the Haliburton Highlands Museum, the West Guilford Community Centre and the Harcourt Community Centre.

• Highlands East is cancelling or postponing all meetings and events scheduled in municipal buildings, including those at the Lloyd Watson Memorial Community Centre, Robert McCausland Memorial Community Centre, the Keith Tallman Memorial Arena, and the Cardiff and Highland Grove community centres.

• Minden Hills has postponed all community programming, events and meetings scheduled within municipal buildings and facilities until at least April 5. The Cultural Centre, Nature’s Place, Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Minden Hills Museum, Welsh Room and Community Centers (S.G. Nesbitt, Irondale and Lochlin) will be closed to the public and all programing postponed. The Minden Hills Fire Hall will also be closed to the public.

Landfill sites in each of the municipalities are open but restrictions are being put in place.

Check municipal websites for full details of service changes. Municipal closures and emergency measures could change quickly as the pandemic continues and emergency control groups meet. See thehighlander.ca and facebook.com/thehighlanderonline for the latest updates.

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