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City to continue to provide essential services during pandemic

'We made a decision quite early that we would be very careful about cutting off water and certainly talk to people and find ways to work with people because … washing hands (is) very critical (and an) essential service to people'
Virus update
City manager Jim Puffalt talks about how the municipality will continue to provide all essential services during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

The City of Moose Jaw plans to provide all necessary essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, while it is considering running transit buses earlier to support vulnerable residents.

Aside from the landfill, which is considered an essential service, all municipal-owned buildings and complexes are closed for now, city manager Jim Puffalt said on March 19 during a coronavirus update.

Most municipal employees are working, including those in water, wastewater, waste management, sewer and transit. Some staff has been redeployed to cover other areas since they will be needed again when the pandemic is over. Emergency services departments are also still functioning and will continue to serve the community.

Based on advice from the provincial government, city hall is working on a business continuity plan and sending as many employees home as possible to work from there, Puffalt continued. This will limit exposure to the virus and also protect employees with health conditions. Information technology employees have worked overtime to ensure staff can work from home.

Since the municipality is focusing on providing essential services, it is not issuing property tax notices "for some time yet." Meanwhile, if the pandemic becomes a long-term issue, the municipality could run buses earlier in the morning so the most vulnerable residents can reach grocery stores and pharmacies.  

The emergency management office (EMO) has been monitoring the situation since January, said Puffalt. Since the pandemic situation changes hourly, city administration is following the guidance of the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

“It’s an uneasy time. (However), our people are managing it very well,” he said. “We are keeping our eyes on the task; we are looking after our community and ensuring the essential services are there.

“It is uncharted ground for a lot of communities and a lot of people. Fortunately, we have some staff with years of experience in managing emergencies, so that’s really been helpful. It’s a very, calm measured response to this.”

The City of Regina recently decided it would not shut off residents’ water if they fell behind on payments, while it also elected to waive all water payments for now. Saskatoon has also done something similar.

There have been conversations about doing the same in Moose Jaw, Puffalt said. There is an item on the March 23 city council agenda about this issue. City administration thought it should consult with council since this is a budget issue.

“We made a decision quite early that we would be very careful about cutting off water and certainly talk to people and find ways to work with people,” he continued, “because … washing hands (is) very critical (and an) essential service to people.”

The lack of child care support in the community has proven to be the biggest issue facing the municipality, besides illnesses, Puffalt remarked. Between 10 to 15 per cent of employees are simply staying home since there are no daycares, schools or babysitters available.

Members of the EMO team — which includes the fire chief and deputy fire chief — have never experienced anything like this before, he continued. The EMO office is quite calm since all it can do is follow the provincial guidelines; conversely, the office would be buzzing if this were a flood.

Puffalt noted he was working in Estevan years ago when a train derailment nearly forced the evacuation of the community. Furthermore, he was working in North Battleford when the H1N1 virus popped up. However, neither of those compare to what’s happening now.

The municipality is taking a common-sense approach when dealing with the coronavirus situation, said Mayor Fraser Tolmie. He encouraged residents to help each other; buy only what’s needed so others can also have supplies; and wash hands and maintain social distancing.

“We are going to get through this,” he added. “We are going to prevail.”

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