Paradise getting business done, says mayor
The way town business is being done may be different, says Paradise Mayor Dan Bobbett, but it’s still being done.
“Our committee meetings, planning meetings are still going on,” said the mayor. “We’re basically trying to invent new concepts to keep within the guidelines of the health emergency. Obviously staff safety is of utmost importance, along with that of everybody else who we service and that’s the community. So, we’ve changed the way we do business.”
If anything, the new way of operating during the pandemic has quickened the implementation of some practices that were outlined in the Town’s strategic plan, Bobbett noted. That includes the move towards taking payments online and issuing permits online.
“It’s after speeding us up by about two years,” he reckoned. “We had to, we had no choice, it was a necessity. These are things we probably would have implemented in the future, but we’re doing it now, because we had to.”
The handling of the Town’s receivables and payables is all being done remotely by staff working on laptops from home. Everything that has to be done, is being done, said the mayor. The biggest thing the Town is struggling with it is inspections. Great care has to be taken in advance before an inspection can be carried out so that social distancing rules are respected.
“Permits are limited, but we’re coming up with ways of doing inspections,” Bobbett said. “We just talked about that at planning, about how we could do virtual inspections by livestreaming. We can’t do video taping because you could question the legitimacy of the videotape and stuff like that.”
While there have been some challenges with the new way of doing things, Bobbett admitted, ” we’re pretty well getting them all worked out.”
The recreation department has set up shop online to come up with ways for seniors and young people to participate in activities from their homes. “We’re hoping to get some uptake with that on our website,” said the mayor, noting the staff are open to ideas.
“It’s funny how working at home now is the norm, because it has to be,” said Bobbett.
All essential services are continuing, even the collection of recyclables, which took place Tuesday in the parking lot of the Double Ice Complex. Council will review how it went to see if it can be staged again. Drivers had to follow a gauntlet of pylons to get their turn at two parked trucks where they tossed in their plastics in one, cardboard and paper in the other. Bobbett said some of the other municipalities in the region were planning to look at how it went to see if they should do something similar.
Pothole repair is also going ahead, with workers driving to job sites alone in separate vehicles to maintain social distancing.
“That’s part of normal maintenance that continues, just like water and sewer (repair),” said Bobbett. “Our water testing continues. We have trained technicians to do that. All of the essential services have got to continue on. Garbage collection as well. We are limiting the shifts for breaks and if they need to go into the lunchroom, areas are cleaned on a more rigorous basis now than they used to be. With the vehicles, we try to assign one person per vehicle and they’ll sanitize it and then that’s the vehicle they will use throughout their shift and the next day as well, if at all possible, to limit the contact. And that’s what it’s all about, following the guidelines set forth by the Department of Health and making sure that staff are safe and looking after the safety of residents as well.”
Bobbett said he can’t think of anything that has to be done that isn’t being done.
“Staff are doing a really good job of managing in the difficult times that we’re in,” he said. “We’re hoping that municipal infrastructure (construction) will move forward as well come the spring. And again, economically, we need to move forward, with new norms obviously until this passes. Hopefully this is not the new norm, but we will use new ways of doing things to meet those restrictions that are in place.”
Financially, the Town collected most of its taxes by the end of February. “There is a small impact, but nothing significant that would stand out right now,” Bobbett said. “The biggest chunk of what we offer are essential services.”
There are very few workers who are not online yet and able to work from home, said Bobbett, and those that aren’t hooked up are in the process of being brought on.
One thing about this challenge is that the town is not alone, said Bobbett. The mayors of the largest municipalities in the region are meeting regularly by videoconferencing to talk about ways of getting through the challenge together. “And we’ve had other meetings as well,” said the mayor. “This morning we had one with the Northeast Avalon Joint Council. That’s the 15 municipalities on the Northeast Avalon… We’re moving with this. It’s changing daily sometimes. Sometimes it’s changing hourly. As municipal leaders I’d like to tell everybody that we’re here doing whatever we can providing the essential services and we hope everybody stays safe and takes care.”