The Merrickville-Wolford Municipal Centre will remain closed for the time being. Back in March, the Village responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic and was one of the first municipalities in Eastern Ontario to activate their Emergency Operations Centre. On March 13, the Municipal Emergency Control Group was called to meet by the Chair, and they determined on March 16 that all municipal facilities needed to be closed to maintain the safety of both staff and residents of Merrickville-Wolford.
CAO Doug Robertson says it was a bit of a scramble at first to get everything in order for staff to start working remotely, but, in the end, they were able to set things up so that they were able to continue to serve the community from the safety of their own homes. As time went on and the province started to open again, more staff have migrated back to the office, mostly because they find working from the Municipal Centre more efficient. “I feel very blessed with the team that we have,” CAO Robertson told council. “The dedication level we have is just outstanding.”
Although he says staff are as eager as the public to get back to some kind of normality in the Village, they are keeping the Municipal Centre closed for the time being to continue to ensure the safety of staff, council, and the public. With the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, the reopening of schools, and the second wave predicted by health officials, he recommends that staff continue to monitor the situation into the Fall.
Councillor Bob Foster said that he thinks staff has done a great job in continuing to serve the community while dealing with the significant challenges of COVID-19. “Every single one of our employees is an essential worker, in that we can’t lose anybody,” he said. “ Whenever members of the public press for normalization, I really think, as a council, we should be prepared to tell them that when the world goes back to normal, we’ll go back to normal; but we’re not pushing the envelope.”
While Deputy Mayor Cameron agrees with the importance of the safety of staff, he believes that they should at least be looking at opening the front door to the Municipal Centre so the public can interact with staff through the glass barrier which is already installed. “I think opening that door and allowing the public to transact with the staff and the municipality is something that we should be trying to expedite,” he said.
Councillor Foster disagreed with the Deputy Mayor, saying that he doesn’t believe it is worth the risk. He thinks this is the perfect time for them to educate residents about paying their bills online. “We’ve also entered a time where businesses who aren’t prepared to go online are dying – the municipality is no different than a business in many ways,” he said. [We should] encourage people to pay more electronically.”
CAO Robertson also said that, with COVID-19, their front desk staff member is taking on more responsibility, and having to respond to people walking into the Municipal Centre would not necessarily improve service at this point. He said they are also being extra cautious, as they do have some staff who are medically compromised. “Staff will continue to evaluate the potential to reopen the municipal offices, at least partially or for limited services, and hope to be able to recommend a staged approach, with clear criteria, to reopen based on advice from the Medical Officer of Health as the pandemic and Provincial restrictions evolve,” CAO Robertson said in his report.