The City of Edmonton did not declare a local state of emergency Wednesday but did say it was looking at ways to defer property tax payments and utility bill payments in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic and its impacts.
Mayor Don Iveson and interim city manager Adam Laughlin provided an update to the City of Edmonton’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday.
“First, let me say how truly moved I am by city staff working around the clock… and Edmontonians for everything they’re doing to flatten the curve,” the mayor said.
“We are resilient and we will get through this together.”
They spoke after an Emergency Advisory Committee meeting, which started at city hall at 10 a.m.
Wednesday morning’s meeting saw members of city administration and council sit further apart. Some councillors participated by phone.
During the meeting, committee members discussed recent events, transit service level adjustments, implications of the province declaring a public health emergency, implications of a possible local state of emergency and what council support looks like going forward.
Laughlin did not recommend enacting a state of local emergency Wednesday.
“At this time, it’s our belief that the situation does not warrant this action,” Iveson said, adding Edmonton would not be declaring one at this time.
“We do not yet think it necessary to take those steps. We can revisit that on an hourly notice basis.”
The mayor said council is hearing from the community about concerns of local businesses and the “tremendous amount of stress” they’re under.
Iveson couldn’t provide details but said “the City of Edmonton is looking into deferrals of property tax payments… Details will follow… We are, as we speak, working through the details” with the City of Calgary, rural municipalities and the province.
“The city takes those looming bills seriously,” Iveson said. “We will come up with relief on property tax and, ideally, utilities.”
In an update on its website, EPCOR said: “As of March 18, residential and small business customers who are experiencing difficulties paying their utility bills may defer paying them up to 90 days.
“No additional late fees will be applied during this 90-day grace period. We will not disconnect customers who are in arrears.
“Customers who expect to have difficulty paying their bills are encouraged to contact us at 310-4300. Please note, due to the expected influx of calls as a result of the Government of Alberta announcement on March 18, we ask customers with concerns to delay calling until next week (week of March 22).”
Later Wednesday, Premier Jason Kenney said his government is injecting $500 million in supplementary funding for health care amid the crisis. He said $50 million will go to self-isolating Albertans in need, noting Albertans can apply for a one-time payment out of this funding by applying at alberta.ca next week. He said those who are approved will receive payments quickly.
Kenney also said the government will allow individuals to defer personal income tax payments and said corporate income taxes can be deferred until Aug. 1.
He said Albertans at risk of not being able to pay their utility bills will not need to worry about that, as utilities will not be cut off for at least three months during the pandemic. He said he was also urging municipalities to come up with similar action on water bills.
The mayor offered tips on helping local businesses at this time, including ordering takeout, buying gift cards for later use and ordering from local businesses online.
Iveson also touched on a strategy to support Edmonton’s most vulnerable.
He said helping those who are dealing with homelessness “continues to be a serious concern for our city, our council, and me, as your mayor.”
He said the city continues to work with AHS and community partners to support isolation and social distancing and that work continues. Iveson also there’s been good coordination with the federal government and the province.
“The sweeping measures announced by the prime minister… should provide some relief.
“I’m encouraged by the conversations we’re having today for the vulnerable population and rate-payers.”
Laughlin said it’s important for city council to deliver a consistent message and he suggested increasing the city’s social media messaging, sharing those social media resources more widely, encouraging community mobilization and neighbourliness.
“In the Edmonton way, we’re pulling together,” Laughlin said, describing citizens’ responses as “compassionate and considerate.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the city made changes to the public transit schedule to respond to complaints of some routes being overcrowded and buses full.
On Monday, the city had reduced service as part of its response to COVID-19.
Laughlin said while ridership Tuesday had gone down 49 per cent, there were still some routes that were as popular as before. In response, the city added buses to those routes and during peak travel times to limit the number of passengers on one bus.
Wednesday’s meeting heard that there are 60 ETS employees in self-isolation. Laughlin later said it’s unclear at this time what type of work or location these employees work in and whether they were advised by Alberta Health to self-isolate or if they’re feeling ill and decided to self-isolate.
Laughlin also announced Tuesday that Edmonton was activating its emergency operations centre.
“Following the province’s lead today, I am announcing that we are activating our emergency operations centre and we will continue to operate closely with the provincial operations centre to ensure that we are harmonizing our work and working together to keep Albertans and Edmontonians as safe as possible.”