Greater Napanee is once again under a State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Marg Isbester officially signed the documents on Wednesday afternoon to re-enter a State of Emergency.
Isbester said the decision, which isn’t one she took lightly, wasn’t meant to cause panic about an imminent danger. Rather it’s a proactive move as winter approaches.
“To put this back into play for us right now protects us as far as liability and protects our staff,” said Isbester. “We could be in the position where we might not be able to supply or meet minimum maintenance standards which are set by MTO, the Good Roads Association or any of those. We must meet those to make sure that we are protecting the people that are using our facilities, our roads within our area.”
By declaring a State of Emergency, the town is absolved of some legal requirements regarding roads and sidewalks, among other things. Isbester made the decision following the advice of the town’s insurance provider as well as Public Works.
“Under a State of Emergency we are protected as long as we have done our due diligence, that we’ve done everything that we can to make sure that we’ve got boots on the ground to prevent anything like that happening,” said Isbester. “For instance we have a snowstorm, we are lacking three to four drivers and so we can put out a statement saying there is a significant weather event which may cause us not to be able to do what we normally would and that protects us, but under a State of Emergency our obligations are a little bit less and we are protected. It sounds like just a way of sloughing off responsibility but it isn’t. It protects the municipality.”
Under the State of Emergency the town is also more freely able to re-deploy staff to other areas of need.
Greater Napanee first declared a COVID-19 related State of Emergency in March of this year. At their Sept. 10 meeting they voted to lift it. As the second wave of the virus moved it, town staff suggested council re-introduce the measure.
“We’re trying to do what we feel is in the best interest of the public and all the citizens and staff involved,” said Curtis Markland, safety compliance and accessibility coordinator for Greater Napanee. “In our opinion the pandemic is not over, there are still other things that need to be in place for us to be confident moving forward. We’re just trying to keep everybody safe the best way we can.”
Greater Napanee isn’t the only community to go this route. When Isbester signed the papers at 1:50 p.m. on Wednesday, the town was officially the 224th community in Ontario to declare a COVID-19 related emergency. The first time around in March the town was the 146th to declare.
“COVID-19 is very much a threat to the community, but you can’t see it,” said Markland. “It doesn’t look like there’s any harm in the way. Sometimes residents and council struggle with what we’re trying to do because there’s no physical thing that you can see. This emergency is very unique across the world because it’s very hard to prepare for something that isn’t visible. Our municipal control group did struggle with the fact that this county and Greater Napanee has been kind of in a bubble, we’re very fortunate and proud of that. It doesn’t mean that we’re invincible. We still need to protect ourselves and our residents.”
Markland added the town would continue to do everything possible to meet maintenance requirements, even if they did become short-staffed due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Isbester said council would apply some of the lessons learned during their first stretch of operating under the State of Emergency. One complaint among some members of council was that they felt left in the dark with some of the decisions that were made during the town’s Municipal Emergency Control Group (MECG).
“During this re-instatement of the state of emergency I’m going to recommend, and I’ve told council, that the MECG- they will have a much more interactive part with what would be going on,” said Isbester. “It may not be that they would be in on the decision making, but they would be able to listen as to what we were doing. The last time we were in a State of Emergency there was nothing that was decided without council. They were in on all decisions to do with staffing, to do with budget, to do with landfills, to do with deferral of taxes and it would be the same now. I realize that they felt that they were not performing their duties. This will be a little different, as I think it should be.”
Editor’s note: this story has been corrected to note the decision was made by Mayor Marg Isbester to reinstate the State of Emergency and not council