VIDEO: City of Red Deer says it has had to make ‘hard decisions’ for a stronger financial future

It’s been just over seven weeks since the City of Red Deer activated its Emergency Operations Centre in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in our community.

Protecting residents

“The health and safety of our residents, employees and visitors continues to be our top priority. Consideration of the well-being of all residents is a driving force in the decisions we are making as we continue our local response to the pandemic,” said Allan Seabrooke, city manager.

A few ways the City of Red Deer has amended operations to protect residents and staff, under the direction of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health:

  • One of the most significant changes came within the Recreation, Parks and Culture area with the closure of playgrounds, indoor and outdoor recreation facilities and the cancellation of programming. The city said it knows Red Deerians dearly miss these amenities, but these closures are critical to prevent the spread in our community.
  • In mid-March, there was a phased closing of city offices and buildings, eventually resulting in many employees working from home by the end of the month. As a result, the city quickly shifted our focus from in-person customer service to online or phone, and they continue to operate a call centre to answer all city-related questions.
  • Within transit operations, the city reduced transit frequency as we saw demand decrease by up to 60 per cent. They have also blocked certain seats to maintain physical distancing and have enhanced cleaning practices. And as last Friday, boarding and exiting of conventional buses is restricted to the rear doors to better enable physical distancing and provide increased protection for drivers.  

“We’ve also been working hard to implement measures to support residents and businesses who may be struggling financially throughout this pandemic,” said Seabrooke.

  • On March 19, the city announced the option to defer water, sewer and waste collection utility bills until June 15, 2020.
  • At the same time, the city announced the suspension of parking fees until further notice, which included metered parking and daily lots in the downtown, and metered parking near the hospital.
  • Most recently, the city announced the extension of Property and Business Improvement Area (BIA) tax deadlines to September 30.

In addition, the city continues to support vulnerable populations.

Working with the Government of Alberta and local partners, a temporary shelter space was set up to provide housing and social supports. The local state of emergency allowed the city to set up this facility in just five days, which otherwise might normally take about six months. The city’s Emergency Social Services team continues to work with community partners in providing critical support for the homeless and other vulnerable groups.

Providing critical services

While many of the city’s operations have changed, they continue to provide critical municipal services including water and wastewater services, waste collection, emergency response, electric utility infrastructure maintenance and road maintenance including street sweeping and pothole filling. This work ensures residents can continue to live their daily lives, but also ensures the city is managing and protecting its infrastructure for the long-term.

The city employees are doing more than just keeping the city running; they are also working to ensure amenities are ready to welcome you when the time is right. Staff are continuing to perform essential facility maintenance, inspecting playgrounds, removing rink boards, sweeping trails and cleaning up winter litter and debris.

Looking ahead

While no one can predict when we will start to emerge from this crisis, it is still important to plan for the future, said Seabrooke.

“We want to be positioned for financial sustainability, we want to ensure our amenities and infrastructure are ready, and of course, we want to ensure our residents are safe.

“We have had to make hard decisions today for a stronger financial future, which included making changes and adjustments to both our services and staffing. These decisions are exceptionally difficult, but necessary as we navigate the days ahead and plan for a time when we can return to providing the program and services residents want and need.”

The city is busy preparing infrastructure and amenities for an eventual return to operations, but staff across the organization are also developing plans for how they will deliver program and services as the restrictions set out by Alberta Health change and evolve in the coming months.

“We know this will be a phased approach, and want to assure you that we will be prepared every step of the way. We will continue to follow guidance provided by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and will implement all necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of residents.”