By Trevor Busch
Westwind Weekly News
The COVID-19 pandemic’s “new normal” has ground most regular operations to a halt in the Village of Stirling, but the municipality hasn’t declared a local state of emergency, reports Mayor Trevor Lewington.
“About two weeks ago we activated our Emergency Management Plan, which included opening our Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), but we did not declare a state of emergency, we didn’t feel there was a need for those powers. But basically we closed all of our public facilities, like the community centre, the library, even the village office is actually closed for in-person traffic, they’re dealing mostly with email and telephone conversations. That’s primarily so our public works and our office people can focus on essential services, and not have to worry about maintaining other services and programs.”
In the village, Canada Post is working reduced hours, and Stirling Truck and Tractor is available by appointment only. Flex Fitness, the LDS Meeting House, Stirling School, the FCSS Building, Lions Community Centre, Stirling Seniors Centre, the Reunion Centre, and playgrounds throughout the community have all been closed indefinitely.
Due to a strong level of compliance among citizens and business operators, at this point the village hasn’t considering declaring a local state of emergency.
“The reason for doing that is if you need powers to enforce some of the public health orders, or if you need to compel people to behave in a certain way,” said Lewington. “Honestly, we’ve had great voluntary compliance — we have a dental office here, Village Dental closed immediately as soon as they got the instructions from the dental association. The gym here closed right away. The restaurant in town, Hickory Street, closed their dining room voluntarily before that was even required and immediately flipped to take-out and delivery. The little corner store/convenience store/gas station that we have closed their waiting area and flipped over to providing services. So for us, everything was done voluntarily by local businesses, and done well in advance of the province actually requiring it, so we haven’t seen a need to do that at this point.”
Residents interested in taking part in council proceedings in upcoming weeks can do so through an electronic platform known as Zoom.
“Council continues to meet, we’re doing it all via Zoom,” said Lewington. “And so people can still attend in person if they want to, they can register, get a link and join us on the video conference. So that’s worked quite well, and we can continue to maintain that if needed. For us, the focus is making sure people have information. We update the website every three or four days as things evolve, trying to keep people in the loop and adjusting as we need to.”
Unfortunately, the village was recently forced to cancel the community’s Easter Egg Hunt on April 8. Regrettably, council is also currently examining other potential implications for the summer months.
“At some point in the next month or so we’re going to have to start looking at summer programming and things like the outdoor pool,” said Lewington. “Obviously, you would normally start investing money and gearing up to prime pumps and boilers and things like that, but if restrictions look like they’re going to continue we won’t be able to do that. So we’re going to have to really start looking at what the next few months are going to look like.”
Lewington pointed out the village is doing what it can to assist local residents that have been broadsided by the health crisis, and is considering actions like deferral of property taxes for hard-hit citizens.
“It’s kind of unprecedented, but there are solutions, and usually we can work through things. For example, we’ve deferred utility bills and penalties on utilities for the next three months as one small recognition of that. We’re going to discuss — council hasn’t made a decision — but we’ll discuss whether it’s appropriate to defer part or all of property taxes, because we know people are looking for breaks. On that one we just need a bit more direction from the provincial government in terms of where their head is at and what they’ll accept. So there’s things we can do, and people just need to be patient and hang in there and we’ll figure it out and work through it together.”
As Canadians navigate their way through a myriad of federal and provincial assistance programs, Lewington encouraged locals to investigate what is available for their situations.
“Clearly the impacts are pretty widespread. This is very stressful on people whether it’s loss of their job or impacts to their business. I think people need to make themselves aware of all of the different programs and resources that are out there, both local, provincial and federal, take advantage of as many of those programs as they can. And hang on — we’re all in this together, we’ll figure it out. If people have concerns or issues they should call the village office (403-756-3379) and we’ll do what we can to help.”