The COVID-19 pandemic has forced local governments to adapt quickly when providing services, resulting in many closures or reductions to services or facilities since March.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has really pushed all levels of government into uncharted territory,” Comox Valley Regional District chair Jesse Ketler said in a news release. “Our responsibility as elected leaders is to understand, as best we can, the challenges facing our residents. Then we need to evaluate the delivery of our 97 local government services in light of these emerging needs.”
The Comox Valley Regional District board has now adopted a framework to provide a lens to help it transition from pandemic response toward renewing services in the community.
The CVRD provides eight core services – regional growth strategy, sewage treatment, water supply, finance and administration, transit, emergency programs, recreation and electoral areas services. The framework will take into account financial impacts, cost savings and partnerships for service delivery, and it will be guided by principles such as maintaining core services affordably, sustaining stable services to support the local economy, adapting to changing priorities, realigning resources for community recovery and communicating plans in a clear manner.
“We know that this is a dire situation for many who have lost their jobs, lost their businesses and possibly even lost their loved ones,” Ketler added. “But we also know that the people of the Comox Valley are resilient, and as elected officials, we are exploring all options and really looking for the best ways in which we can support our residents and revitalize our economy.”
CVRD chief administrative officer Russell Dyson told the Comox Valley Record the framework will guide staff over the next few months toward providing direction for the board in September as to the status or level of project or services.
“We have to consider what is relevant,” he said. “We will present some options over the next couple of months.”
Some of those services at the core of the CVRD such as the landfill, which it operates through Comox Strathcona Waste Management (CSWM) in conjunction with the Strathcona Regional District, must continue to operate, Dyson said. Another project that will go ahead is water treatment project. However, services such as the sports centre or aquatic centre, which have been closed in response to the pandemic, need further discussion, as do projects such as improvements to parks or community fire halls. Another priority, Dyson said, will be to identify other efficiencies in response to challenges posed by the pandemic.
“This circumstance has hit the taxpayer and hit our citizens hard. We need to look at things…. Can we do things differently to help and support them but still provide those necessary services, but in a modified way if we can ease the burden?”
Since the Province declared a state of emergency on March 17, the CVRD has focused on establishing a regional level 2 emergency operations centre to support public health officials and Island Health, covered more than $200,000 to help homeless support, food security for marginalized populations and other measures during the COVID-19 pandemic and has redeployed several staff as part of a COVID-19 Action Team to connect with non-profit community groups in order to develop action plans for CVRD support.
“We are reaching out to each and every one of them,” Dyson said.