BONNYVILLE – Local municipalities are keeping a close eye on the changing coronavirus situation, reminding residents to remain calm as they're doing what they can to keep things running smoothly.
“Stay safe and help out your neighbours," said Town of Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski. "We will get through this and keep looking forward to the government programming and stuff that we can try. Buy local, not necessarily hoarding or anything like that, and keep us in your thoughts and prayers because we’re really trying to work hard with our government officials to plan this thing through carefully and move through it."
As the province continues to put stricter measures in place in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, an increasing number of businesses and facilities are being forced to shut down. Municipal recreation facilities including the Bonnyville and District Centennial Centre, Cold Lake Energy Centre, Bonnyville Swimming Pool, and Kinosoo Ridge are closed to the public. Libraries and FCSS buildings in both communities have also shut their doors.
The MD of Bonnyville made the decision to close all of their offices to the public. However, the municipality stressed that core services will continue to be offered including water and sewer services, waste collection, road maintenance, and bill payments, and staff will be available over the phone.
“We felt that it was impossible to meet the social distancing requirements that Alberta Health Services (AHS) were putting out as their guidelines,” Reeve Greg Sawchuk explained.
The town quickly followed suit, closing all of their buildings starting March 23.
With the growing list of closures and cancellations, Sobolewski said they're trying to keep positive and ensure businesses can stay open.
“We’re doing what we can to try and influence individuals from completely shutting down businesses, and trying to motivate the government in terms of coming up with programming. Basically, just hunkering down and encouraging everybody to stay safe and to keep our eyes on the credible news.”
City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland described the situation as “devastating to the retail sector.”
“When it comes to your restaurants, hotel industry, and your small businesses that rely on customers being out and about, it’s pretty devastating,” he exclaimed. “The cancellations that we saw with different events that were going to come through Cold Lake over the last couple of weeks, losing that business and those customers were huge.”
With the sudden demand on grocery stores, Sobolewski and Copeland encouraged residents not to hoard products.
“Just let the system and trucking industry catch up with demand,” Copeland added. “Everybody just needs to back off the gas pedal, and allow the trucking industry to get up to our communities... We’re moving product and we need to just let the system catch up and we’re not in jeopardy of starving in Cold Lake.”
Public transit in Cold Lake will continue to be available for those who need it.
“What people have to remember about our population is 24 per cent of it is 14-years-old and under. There’s a lot of kids now staying at home, and if they want to use transit to go get some milk for mom and dad, the transit's there for people to move around if they want to.”
In a press release last week, the city explained that administration is looking into options to present to council with regards to deferring municipal bills, such as utilities and property taxes. Copeland noted that adding to their concern is the uncertainty around ID 349 funding from the province.
“The economy right now with the virus is concerning. Will people have the financial (security) to pay their property tax? The city isn’t in a good cash position right now to defer people paying property tax, unless we get the ID 349 money sent out here by the province any day now. We’re still waiting for the decision, and for the money to be sent out, we’re in a tough spot right now.”
Just like many businesses, municipalities are also uncertain of what the future holds.
“In terms of moving forward, it’s all going to be dependent on funding, programming, and things like that,” Sobolewski noted.
According to Sawchuk, MD council instructed administration that getting projects going within the municipality is a priority.
“We need some of that money to come into the community. Get some of those construction jobs on the go so that the money can start flowing around the local economy."
As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the province, municipalities are urging residents to do their part by following AHS and provincial guidelines. Sawchuk encouraged residents to “work together for this short period of time so the impact will be lessened.”
“We had some presentations from AHS in regards to getting ahead of this thing and flattening out the curve, and all of those things are in place now are doing exactly that,” detailed Sawchuk. “The numbers of cases will increase over the next couple of weeks, but after that point in time I don’t think we’re going to see the impact you’ve seen in other countries."