PONTIAC May 6, 2020
With COVID-19 wreaking havoc with everything from the economy to social distancing norms, all levels of government have been mobilized to keep services running as smoothly as possible – and that includes municipal governments.
Many local municipalities have taken the drastic step of allowing homeowners to delay or defer their property tax payments until a later date.
But day-to-day operations are a bit trickier.
As per a provincial directive on March 12, municipal offices are closed to the public, although there are still employees on site in some cases.
Many of those who would normally be on site addressing the concerns of residents are now doing their jobs from home.
In fact, all phone calls to the Municipality of Pontiac town hall have been redirected to the home phone of the receptionist.
“The municipality is pretty much functioning virtually,” said Municipality of Pontiac Mayor Joanne Labadie.
She said it took about a week or so for the virtual network to be set up but things are operating a closely to normal as possible.
One of the most important functions of municipal councils is to keep residents updated on what is happening at town hall, which is normally done at council meetings.
But with public gatherings now outlawed, municipal councils are finding different ways to keep business going.
Waltham is still having in-person council meetings, but with councillors spaced far enough away in order to stay in compliance with social distancing rules while Shawville has opted for teleconference meetings.
The Municipality of Pontiac opted for virtual meetings.
Labadie acknowledged that it presented some early challenges, but municipal staff are working to find solutions.
Privacy concerns meant the municipality opted to purchase the Zoom Pro edition of the now well-known video-conferencing app. This alleviated those privacy concerns and allowed council to have its first virtual meeting in April.
But with the public unable to attend these meetings, municipalities are trying to find ways for residents to be kept abreast of what happens at the meetings.
Labadie said the municipality will be looking into ways to record the meetings and posted online at a later date.
While many of the employees at local municipalities are working from home, some are not able to do so.
For instance, the roads crews of the Allumettes Island and Chichester are back at work but with workers having to stay more than six feet apart, there can only be one per vehicle.
Thankfully, with the Ottawa River levels lower than last year, the Municipality of Pontiac avoided what could have been a catastrophe if spring floods reared their ugly head once again.
“We were worried,” Labadie said. “We started distributing sand bags to three vulnerable neighbourhoods with all of the social distancing and COVID requirements in a pamphlet.”
Labadie said staff targeted homes that were likely to flood first, based on the experiences of the last few years.
“We identified 25 properties that were vulnerable and we had sandbags packaged, not filled, and distributed to each of those residents by one of our public works employees and sand delivered the neighbourhoods with signs posted one how to respect social distancing,” Labadie said.
She says residents and the municipality are lucky they didn’t have to use those sandbags under the current circumstances.
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