Saanich has no plans to lay off staff as municipal facilities close to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
On March 18, the District of Saanich announced that effective March 19, all municipal facilities except for the Cedar Hill Golf Course are closed to the public for the foreseeable future. Public access to municipal hall, the public works yard and the fire hall is now by appointment only.
Mayor Fred Haynes emphasized that these closures do not mean municipal staff will be laid off and that employees have simply been reassigned. For example, recreation centres are closed but staff have taken on other jobs within the centres, he said.
Haynes added that each municipality in B.C. will make its own decisions for moving forward in these “turbulent” times. For example, Kelowna laid off 65 of its active living and culture division staff as part of facility closures.
Saanich council will, however, need to look at the 2020 municipal budget differently during the deliberations, Haynes said. It will come down to “what’s essential and what’s the new reality in this turbulent time?” he added.
He noted that COVID-19 has brought about a decline in greenhouse gas emissions with many people staying off the roads and industry pausing. This means Saanich could delay its climate actions as a way to save money and reallocate it to relief and assistance, he said.
“We need to be aware that the COVID-19 situation is not just a health crisis, it’s an economic and financial crisis too,” he said, adding that vulnerable populations living on a fixed income, small business owners and others may be affected financially.
The province is also working with municipalities and looking at financing, Haynes said. He participated in a conference call between B.C.’s other mayors and provincial representatives earlier in the week.
“Municipalities are creatures of the province” and legally cannot run a deficit, so they are relying on B.C. to create a plan, Haynes said. He added that Saanich’s reserve funds are “strong” and that staff will work to keep everything operating.
As of March 19, all council and committee of the whole meetings and budget deliberations are still scheduled but the public is asked to submit comments by email, mail and phone, Haynes said.
He emphasized that the changes are about safety and residents have been respectful through this “heightened precaution phase.”
Haynes offered a “hats off to the residents of Saanich” who’ve adhered to safety protocols and are helping each other through these turbulent times.