County council agreed to spend up to $15,000 to broadcast future in-person meetings but are not returning to them yet.

Staff brought forward a proposal June 24 to install two cameras in the council chambers and prepare computers and software to stream future meetings. This comes with the province allowing groups of 10 people to gather as of June 12, which means councils can meet in-person again. County council meetings have been held electronically since March.

Councillors spoke positively about the idea of broadcasting meetings to improve accessibility both during and after the pandemic. But Coun. Carol Moffatt voiced concern about starting in-person meetings, noting the difficulty of distancing in the tight corridors around the County council chambers.

“We’re all right to be concerned,” Moffatt said. “Just want to make sure that everyone is 100 per cent comfortable and confident that reconvening in person right now is the right thing to do.”

Some municipal councils have resumed in-person meetings, including the neighbouring City of Kawartha Lakes. But County councillors agreed to delay until at least after their July meeting.

“I don’t know what the hurry is to get back in-person,” Coun. Dave Burton said. “I certainly support doing another council meeting by Zoom.”

Director of IT Mike March said he does not expect the equipment to cost more than $10,000 but wanted an upset limit in case additional purchases are required to address issues. The money will come from municipal modernization funding from the province.

Minden Hills and Algonquin Highlands

March also spoke at the Minden Hills council meeting June 25, saying they could resume in-person meetings with a maximum of 10 people. He said they would need a similar system as the County, at a cost of an upset limit of $15,000. Coun. Bob Carter said with seven councillors, the CAO and clerk, they were up to nine people. He didn’t think council should rush back.

“Let’s do some testing … wait on the County to see how that works. I don’t see this as any rush. I’m not getting in a room with a whole bunch of people before that, so this is probably sometime later this year at the earliest.”

A majority of councillors expressed some concern about hesitating, making it difficult to get the equipment, or at the price it is today. They added there are limitations with Zoom and YouTube.

“I’d like to go back to having live council meetings however possible,” Coun. Jean Neville said.

Coun. Pam Sayne wanted to know about delegations and committees of council. March said they could continue to use Zoom for delegations.

Clerk Vicki Bull said the County’s clerks were discussing committee meetings going forward. March said they could first use the County as a “guinea pig” and then go from there.

The council voted to receive the report as information, and give March the green light to acquire equipment. Councillors Carter and Jennifer Hughey voted against.

Meanwhile, Algonquin Highlands is preparing to hold virtual public meetings, primarily by phone.

Members of the committee involved with a public meeting could attend via video. However, given the varying levels of internet service and technical expertise in the community, public attendance at the meeting will be arranged by phone to ensure the largest number of people have access.

Public notices will include detailed information on how to participate. (With files from Lisa Gervais and Lisa Harrison)

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