Chestermere City Council reviewed the local Business Continuity Plan in response to COVID-19 during the Regular Meeting of Council on May. 4.
“Business continuity is the framework for organizational functioning which determines how services are delivered, it considers risks, mitigation measures, but most importantly it must be realistic and achievable. It’s not a wish list, we have to respond to the reality on the ground, and provide an appropriate response,” said the Director of Community Growth and Infrastructure, John Popoff.
The primary responsibility of the Business Continuity Plan is to ensure city staffers and the Emergency Command Centre (ECC) work together to ensure essential services continue such as fire protection, policing, and garbage pick-up.
A primary responsibility is also to ensure that disruptions to non-essential services such as snow clearing, park maintenance, and building inspections are minimized.
Under a Business Continuity Plan, the efforts made between city staffers and the ECC team will ensure the municipality can continue to function under new circumstances as fast as possible.
“We need to remain agile, nimble, and responsive. That means our process has to be ongoing, and change with the circumstances. It’s not businesses as usual, it’s addressing the new reality,” he said.
The City of Chestermere staffers are highly aware of the new reality while planning for the continued operations of the municipality.
The Business Continuity Plan has been divided into three phases. The first phase was the planning response, the second is adjusting and refining over the spring and summer, following with recovery efforts.
“Our efforts have been ongoing since March, and we are meeting regularly to coordinate efforts. It’s an ongoing discussion, and we’re doing our absolute best to understand how we can adapt to these circumstances,” Popoff said.
The Chestermere Emergency Management Agency (CHEMA) is receiving frequent updates from the government of Alberta, and Alberta Health Services (AHS), and is anticipating a second COVID-19 peak this fall.
In response to COVID-19, city staffers have been deployed to the ECC, a majority of city staff are now working from home, and the staff who are working in city hall are following social distancing regulations and following increased sanitization practices to ensure their safety.
The city has also increased training in emergency management should there be a need to change the people currently working in the ECC, and an emergency social services team has been formed.
The city is adjusting daily operations, such as moving services online or over the phone and implementing property tax and utility bill payment deferral programs.
“What we do know is there is a very deep profound respect and understanding of the public dollars that we are entrusted with,” said the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Brenda Hewko.
“One of the things that we’re very cognizant of, is we’re protecting cash in the bank account.
We’re looking at it from the two perspectives of money coming in, or money going out,” she said.
There are multiple forms of revenues going into the city, such as tax revenue, user fees, sales of goods, and grant revenue, while funds coming out of the city are from operating expenses.
There have also been costs associated with the local COVID-19 measures, such as the cost of the ECC.
“The costs of the ECC, what has been incurred so far, what’s been projected until the end of June, is about $168,000,” Hewko said.
“There’s also costs that the city has incurred that is above and beyond normal operations, such as the different sanitizations required to keep staff safe who are working at a different facility. Those costs are approximately $70,000,” she said.
Adding, “The payment deferral programs, not a cost, but a delay of cash coming in, we’re estimating for the total period of each program of about $600,000 at this point. We anticipate that will increase.”
The City of Chestermere does have a variety of options to protect the funds in the bank, such as pausing principal or interest rates on the existing debt, incurring new debt, or withdrawing from the Restricted Surplus Account.
At this point, the options have not been used.
Prior to COVID-19, the City of Chestermere was working on reviewing service levels.
“It made sense for us to start looking at the criticality of tasks,” said the Director of Community Operations, Kathy Russell.
Tasks are now reviewed as being critical, vital, necessary, or desired.
In response to COVID-19, the community operations team asked the community services departments how critical the tasks being performed were, could the tasks be accomplished using different strategies, what would be the impact of reducing or stopping the tasks, and what would happen if work on the tasks decreased or increased.
COVID-19 also generated an increase in certain services, such as garbage collections.
“Most recently, we’ve had a lot of increase in the waste disposal and pick up. Now we’re in the midst of cross training our roads operators,” Russell said.