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Edmonton declares local state of emergency over COVID-19, suspends some fees for citizens

City of Edmonton declares local state of emergency
WATCH ABOVE: Mayor Don Iveson explains why council voted to declare a local state of emergency to deal with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and what powers that grants the city.

Mayor Don Iveson announced late Friday afternoon that city council voted to declare a local state of emergency in response to the deepening COVID-19 crisis. Councillors also agreed to take steps to ease financial burdens many Edmontonians are facing because of the pandemic.

“This decision was not made lightly,” Iveson said, referencing the state of emergency, adding it ensures “we are as agile as possible during these fast-moving times… to keep people safe.”

“This is an unprecedented situation for our city and for the world.”

City of Edmonton mayor says local state of emergency ‘All about the rule of law’
City of Edmonton mayor says local state of emergency ‘All about the rule of law’

Iveson also thanked the provincial government and front-line workers for plans to convert part of the Edmonton Expo Centre to a space that can accommodate overflow of homeless people and other vulnerable Edmontonians as local shelters face additional pressure.

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READ MORE: Kenney says Edmonton Expo Centre will be used for vulnerable population amid COVID-19 crisis

Mayor Iveson on Edmonton Expo Centre being used for vulnerable population
Mayor Iveson on Edmonton Expo Centre being used for vulnerable population

The mayor said councillors “care deeply about this community” and are doing all they can amid the health crisis, adding he is in daily contact with provincial and federal officials about the quickly changing situation.

Iveson also announced council voted to allow the deferral of property tax payments and city utility fees for people who need such relief. No late penalties will be charged to tax payments made by Sept. 30.

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The city said more information will be available before tax notices are mailed in May.

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin said utility deferral will be from March 18 to June 18 and noted that both for utility payments and property taxes, the deferrals “will not be automatic.”

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The city said the option for deferring utility payments for those who need to will not be guaranteed until a final agreement is in place between the city, the Alberta Utility Commission and utility partners.

Laughlin said Edmontonians who need to take advantage of deferrals will need to contact the city or their utility provider to make arrangements. He said those who take advantage of the relief will not incur additional interest or penalties and nobody, even those in arrears, will have their utilities cut off until the crisis recedes.

“We’re all in this together,” Laughlin said, adding that on Friday, “the city and its union partners signed an agreement” that will allow for city workers to be redeployed “as needs arise” to ensure necessary services are maintained.

“This is the kind of partnership that demonstrates we’re all in this together,” he said.

City council votes to suspend need to pay for public transit, parking

On Friday, city councillors also voted to suspend fare collection on all Edmonton Transit Service buses, LRT and DATS service. Transit users will also now need to board buses via their rear doors to protect drivers and themselves and to enhance social distancing. Exceptions will be made for people who require access to a wheelchair ramp.

“Suspending fares adds another layer of protection for our operators as it eliminates the need for cash and transfer handling, thereby minimizing contact with others and increasing social distancing measures,” the city said in a news release.

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“Changes in fare collection are in response to keeping the community safe, and are not intended to encourage increased use of transit services.”

Edmonton city hall closed, transit and parking free, tax collection delayed
Edmonton city hall closed, transit and parking free, tax collection delayed

The lifting of fare requirements for using ETS will take effect on Saturday.

On that same day, parking fees in the “EPark parking system, curbside and in City of Edmonton lots will be suspended,” the city announced.

“This will encourage safe movement around the city.”

The city said a start date for when the Expo Centre will be opened to vulnerable Edmontonians will be announced in the coming days. For more information, click here.

READ MORE: Edmonton social agencies preparing as coronavirus cases climb

How local state of emergency helps support Edmonton vulnerable population
How local state of emergency helps support Edmonton vulnerable population

On Friday, city council also made the decision to close Edmonton City Hall to the public, effective immediately.

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“Edmonton joins a number of other Canadian cities that have closed their city hall buildings as a safety measure during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the city said in a news release. “This decision was made to ensure the safety of the public and employees during this health emergency.”

Council and committee meetings have been suspended until April 27, except for a council meeting scheduled for March 30.

As of Friday afternoon, Alberta Health said the province had confirmed a total of 195 cases of COVID-19, with one person dying from the illness. There have been 43 cases confirmed in the Edmonton zone.

READ MORE: Alberta has 195 COVID-19 cases; some child care centres to reopen for essential service workers

Social distancing enforcement under local state of emergency in Edmonton
Social distancing enforcement under local state of emergency in Edmonton

For more information on the number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta and where they are located, visit the Alberta government’s website.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.