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Mayor Lyn Hall gives COVID-19 update; city unable to change tax deadline

Mayor Lyn Hall

March 11 was the day things changed at the city.

That was the day the province announced that the COVID-19 virus was a pandemic.

“That changed the entire landscape of this virus, our province, and our city,” said Mayor Lyn Hall.

The pandemic declaration was followed three days later by the cancellation of the 2020 World Women’s Curling Championships, which started a “cascade” of event cancellations in the city with between 15-20 events being cancelled.

The next phase with the closing of facilities, limiting gatherings to 50 people and social distancing.

“It’s important to note that we’re taking direction from the province’s Medical Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry and, in her words, ‘this is a critical time to build the firewall, to fight the virus, and flatten the curve,’” said Hall.

City Hall is still open. Councillors were seated two chairs apart and even extra space was provided for media to ‘social distance’ while covering the meeting. Hall said council members are also working on meeting electronically, if possible, rather than having face-to-face meetings.

The city has also closed all of its civic facilities.

“One of our primary objectives at the city is to get the information out to residents so they understand what’s happening, not only on a provincial level, but right here at home,” he said, stressing the city’s direction comes from the provincial Medical Health Officer.

Quoting Dr. Henry Hall said: “’Be kind, be calm, and be safe, and remember to check in your neighbours.’ If you have seniors living in your neighbourhood, check in on them, help them buy some groceries.”

As a result of the closures, arena staff are not working to support events they normally would, said city manager Kathleen Soltis, so they have been reassigned to help with custodial staff who are cleaning facilities.

While City Hall remains open, event tape has been put up at service desks to help with social distancing.

“Great care has been taken to space people two metres apart,” said Soltis.

The city activated its Emergency Operations Centre on March 16. The centre facilitates quick communications between city, other levels of government, and service agencies and they meet daily.

“It will be some time before the complete picture of event cancellations are known,” she said.

While some communities have declared states of emergency, Soltis said the current provincial state of emergency provides the city with the tools it needs to deal with the crisis.

Coun. Brian Skakun queried whether the city can, like other communities, offer some tax breaks to residents struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic.

“Even though we have a tax deadline and we have to fund our own operations, is there any way we can get the province defer the portion we collect for them,” he asked.

Coun. Garth Frizzell said the finance and audit committee has been looking at what it can do.

“We don’t have the power to change the dates (that taxes are due),” he said. “We don’t have the power to offer special agreements. So we’ve been kicking the tires looking at anything we can do.”

He added this will also have an impact on the city’s 2021 budget.

“This virus and the response is not unique to Prince George,” said Coun. Kyle Sampson. “However, the way we’ve responded is unique, in a way, the way we’re coming together.”

He stressed that council and staff are working diligently on the issue.

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