Soon there’ll be lines on Main Street sidewalks to encourage social distancing, along with hand sanitizers to encourage good hand hygiene.
It is one of several initiatives the municipality is working on, particularly in response to a laundry list of items the Town can help local businesses with—a list provided by the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Huntsville BIA.
“Local government cannot as easily provide loans or grants to businesses, basically… it’s against the Municipal Act so federal, provincial, and Muskoka Futures is the way to go right now,” said Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano at a remotely held council meeting held May 27. She was referring to financial help available to local businesses hit hard by required closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Town has been struggling for some time to try and find ways to help local merchants because, as staff has repeatedly warned, the municipality cannot dole out funds to a specific segment of the population as it could be construed as bonusing.
However, one of the things the Town can do is set up lines and directional arrows on the main street “to hopefully have people going one way and showing the [two]-metre distancing,” said Terziano, who also noted that the request had originally come from the BIA.
“We’re also ordering some street [hand] sanitizers that can be placed on the sidewalk outside of businesses to help all of our residents sanitize when they’re downtown,” she added.
Terziano said the municipality will continue to advocate for its residents.
She also said a downtown parking ambassador will be hired once more, as requested.
Other initiatives like the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for local businesses were still being examined, stated Terziano at last Wednesday’s council meeting. By Friday, a joint press release was issued stating that in conjunction with the chamber and the BIA “the Town of Huntsville will be accessing and providing PPE to assist the business community in keeping our residents safe.”
At its Wednesday meeting, council also rescinded a previous decision and voted in favour of once again hiring someone to weed and water the flowers on the main street.
Terziano said other initiatives have included accommodating businesses with requests for outdoor patios and food trucks and requests such as holding yoga classes in municipal parks.
“We have worked with each of these requests and been pretty successful in being able to accommodate every request that’s come in so staff has done a great job there, working with people,” noted Terziano.
Council also passed a resolution to waive building permits for outdoor structures with a value of up to $30,000, such as patios.
As per a request from the chamber, council also agreed to collaborate with the Municipal Accommodation Tax board, the BIA and the Township of Lake of Bays to grant an additional $30,000 to the chamber for marketing purposes.
Terziano told councillors that all other avenues would be further explored to help local businesses, particularly as they prepare to reopen.
She said a special COVID-19 council meeting would be held within a couple of weeks as staff explore ways of getting help to local businesses without contravening the Municipal Act.
“We need to get the PPE and some signage to the businesses to keep the businesses safe, to keep the citizens safe, and to keep our visitors safe. If the rules prevent us from doing that then damn the rules,” said Huntsville Councillor Bob Stone. “You know, putting together a kit that all businesses can access makes perfect sense and I’d be happy to take the flak over that.”
At the meeting, Huntsville manager of finance Julia McKenzie did note that the information about where to get PPE is publicly available “and we’ve been making sure that that information gets distributed to the businesses as well.”
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