COVID-19 has dominated virtually every aspect of life for the past 11 months.
For municipalities it has meant modifying the way they conduct business and a reduction in revenue.
To offset financial problems, the provincial government established its COVID-19 Safe Restart Grants for Local Governments program. As part of that program, Telkwa received $602,000 of which the village has only spent a small amount on computer technology and modifications to the village office in direct response to public health orders.
The money comes with very few strings attached, the province mostly leaving it up to municipalities as to what their greatest pandemic-associated needs are.
Debbie Joujan, the village’s CAO said discussions on spending the rest of the funding will begin March 9 during a Committee of the Whole meeting to start budget deliberations.
At that point, Telkwa will have a new councillor following a byelection scheduled for Feb. 27. All of the candidates said they are satisfied with the way the current council has handled the pandemic response.
“The village is doing the best as it can,” said Klaus Kraft.
Erik Jacobsen was impressed council held off on spending the COVID relief funds.
“I believe the Village has made an excellent decision not to spend any more money than has been decided on,” he said. “I will also like to compliment them on wait for any further spending until the whole budget meeting on March 9.”
Dave Livesey felt council was wise to follow the provincial lead.
“The Village has followed the directives of the provincial government,” he said. “They have installed some plexiglass barriers in the reception area and are following mask, hand sanitizing and tracing protocols. Council meetings are now held via Zoom. I think this is an appropriate response, as the Province has the scientific know-how to make the best calls.”
Of the three candidates only Livesey had a very specific idea in mind for spending the relief money.
“I think it should be used to build some infrastructure which has a medical or health care focus,” he said. “It will require some collaboration with Northern Health and other groups such as Search and Rescue or Emergency Preparedness to determine what is the best format, but I think something like a nursing station could be built with that much money.
“It would not need to be staffed full-time, but having a medical-grade space available for vaccinations and emergencies could really benefit the area in the future. The space could be built as an addition to one of the firehalls or be a stand-alone structure, or even a mobile unit.”
Jacobsen took a more wait-and-see approach.
“As a councillor I would recommend that decision should be made with all parties involved, staff and the council present,” he said. “I do not know, presently, where the needs of that money are the greatest.”
Kraft was called away on business and was unable to provide a response.
Jacobsen and Livesey also weighed in on how the village should be preparing for the next emergency.
For Jacobsen, the key is in saving for the proverbial rainy day.
“Setting money aside to prepare for emergencies should be a must,” he said. “We never know when an emergency (will) arrive. The answer to the question, “how much and for an extended period” can only be determined by how long should we able to operate with no money coming in and how much money we require for that period of time.”
Livesey, on the other hand, wants the village to become more self-sufficient in the long-term.
“One of the key things Telkwa can do to prepare for future emergencies is to develop more services so that people can get what they need in the village if travel restrictions are put in place,” he said. “This is a long-term strategy involving encouraging new businesses to move here.”
In the meantime, he also had some thoughts on short-term preparedness for the current pandemic.
“In the short term, the Village needs to be thinking about making a space available for vaccinations, and about educating people around virus containment precautions and emergency preparedness,” he said. “There are already pamphlets about these topics at the village office, but they could be placed at other places in the area as well, to help get the message out there.”
General voting will take place Saturday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the Telkwa Community Hall.