Councillors allocated $1,500 for technology upgrades to facilitate remote work

WELLINGTON NORTH – Township councillors here will have access to up to $1,500 each for technology upgrades to facilitate remote work and meetings.

Council approved a recommendation to provide the funds in response to a report from director of finance Adam McNabb on Oct. 13.

Money for the upgrades will come from the township’s $311,000 allocation from the Safe Restart Agreement, a joint initiative of the federal and provincial governments aimed at helping municipalities continue delivering critical public services despite pandemic impacts.

McNabb’s report indicated councillors could use the funds to offset costs associated with IT enhancements necessary to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With recent increases in case numbers, it is unlikely that in-person council sessions are likely to transpire in the short term,” states the report.

It notes councillors can use the funds to “enhance existing technologies to enable better, more stable communication lines, and offset otherwise burdensome costs associated with rural/remote bandwidth access.”

Despite travelling to the municipal office to participate remotely in the Oct. 13 meeting due to internet access issues, councillor Steve McCabe made it clear he does not want the funds.

“I am completely in disagreement with this. I mean I don’t need it, I don’t’ want it,” McCabe stated.

“There’s got to be a better way we can allocate this money.”

He continued, “Would it be better to have broadband? Absolutely for the rural areas … do we have to accept this or is there a better way we can use this Safe Restart money than dishing out $1,500 to council?”

Mayor Andy Lennox said the suggestion probably resulted from comments he has made, regarding the potential need for equipment such as headsets to eliminate background noise or improvements to internet access.

“It was just to allow members of council to address their needs to try to facilitate and make this system to work the best possible,” Lennox explained.

“Absolutely, if members of council don’t need it, even if we were to put it in place, that money doesn’t get spent and then would still be in the township’s budget.”

Lennox added, “I’m still having ongoing [internet access] problems and I’m thinking it may cost some dollars to fix it.

“That’s one of my concerns, personally, and I know that both you and councillor (Lisa) Hern have had significant problems as well.”

McCabe replied, “That’s why I’m at the council chambers tonight.

“I’m glad that we don’t have to take this money and I understand the reason for it.”

CAO Mike Givens noted staff has had talks with ministry officials about utilization of Safe Restart Agreement money and facilitating remote meetings was among the uses discussed.

“It’s just kind of a broad opportunity that some would participate in and others would say, ‘No, everything is working fine on my end,’” said Givens.

The CAO added it was felt the availability of offsetting funds “may help light a fire under some councillors in terms up upgrading their system.”

The motion to allocate the funds passed unopposed.