Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor reflects on the community impacts of COVID-19
Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald says her town has lost the ability to offer few small privileges to residents.
By Deatra Walsh, Director of Advocacy and Communications, Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador
The community pool in Roddickton-Bide Arm is a highlight of the summer.
When the spring breaks on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula and the weather begins its slow ascent to warm, the town council and staff usually begin the process of readying the pool for families and children.
For 8 weeks of the year, the 50 by 24-foot structure, the equivalent of a typical backyard pool, is open for swimming lessons, frolicking and fun.
That won’t happen this year.
In early June, guidelines were released by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for outdoor pools openings under what they call Alert level 3 – the province’s living with COVID-19 reopening plan.
Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald says that the COVID-19 operating requirements and restrictions are beyond the financial and human resource capacity of the town right now. Physical distancing in the small change room is impossible; hiring additional people to support COVID safety and sanitation measures is not feasible with a decrease in tax revenues and no additional operational funding support.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald is also president of the provincial municipal association, Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador.
She says COVID-19 has brought a lot of loss to the community – the loss of trust as people navigated the early pandemic days of fear in the province, a loss of money as people lost employment or the prospect of employment and the loss of any financial stability that the town had.
They’ve had to absorb an additional $15,000 in user fees associated with the transition to online banking. They’ve had to buy extra PPE and where once they had one truck on the road for public works, they now have two for additional safety measures and need.
“I am really worried about my town. We put money away because we had work that needed to be done.”
With the new and unforeseen expenses related to COVID-19, along with the cost of carrying tax deferrals and discounts, Fitzgerald says they may have to access those funds to cover the loss. “This is going to cost us a lot of money.”
With increased costs, cuts are inevitable.
Fitzgerald says that chlorine is a priority for the town – drinking water is an essential service – and she can’t sacrifice essential services to make up the shortfall.
Other services considered essential in the summer, like the pool, will definitely suffer. Roddickton-Bide Arm won’t be offering its annual summer science camp either, something which they have done in the upstairs of their small arena for the past 10 years.
Pools and day camps are community threads after the long winter.
While municipalities may open some summer recreation infrastructure and offer programming, with restrictions, under Alert Level 3 – and more under Alert Level 2 as of June 25 — not all of them can.
“It is like fighting a losing battle, because you can’t offer what’s considered to be essential services.”
The municipality operates them and there aren’t alternatives.
“When you lose a component there, it’s not just a loss that is felt by children, it’s a loss for the whole community,” she added.
“The few small privileges that we had, we’ve lost, and we can’t replace it with something else.”
Municipalities across the province and the country are facing increased costs and decreasing revenues as a result of COVID-19. In April, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called on the Federal Government to provide at least $10 billion nationally in emergency operational funding for municipalities. Municipalities are still waiting for an operational funding support commitment. A lack of emergency operational funding will mean further cuts to recreation. Essential services are at risk and tax increases will have to be considered.
This story is the first in a series written by MNL staff on the implications of COVID-19 for municipalities.