By Tristan Marks
The Town of Lincoln is gearing up to hit the ground running as Ontario’s economy slowly reopens.
To that end, the town has pulled together a Rapid Recovery Team (RRT) within its Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) to help guide and facilitate the reopening of Lincoln.
Lincoln CAO Michael Kirkopoulos, who heads the new team, said at May 4’s special meeting of council it “aims to emphasize the health and safety of the public” while opening the town by “maintaining strong hygiene practices as well as innovative approaches to maintaining enhanced physical distancing.”
In a report, Kirkopoulos explained the RRT has laid out a framework which includes a recovery plan based on several principles, including:
• Research – ascertaining and quantifying the economic impact that COVID-19 has had on the business community throughout the region;
• Advocacy – identifying key advocacy channels to emphasize the need for economic support for Niagara’s businesses; and
• Resilience – Connecting with and working in conjunction with the private sector and various industry groups in Niagara to develop long-term recovery plans based on Business Retention and Expansion principals.
The team’s recovery plan framework identifies four key sectors to support and integrate:
• People and Communities – Which primarily concerns, but is not limited to, health and safety, mental health, community psychosocial, emotional, cultural, and spiritual well-being, vulnerable populations, cultural aspects, and interim housing;
• Economy –Which primarily concerns small, medium, and large enterprise, tourism and cultural livelihood, agriculture, and the broader economy;
• Environment – Which considers impacts on the environment and steps needed to re-establish a healthy state while mitigating long-term impacts, and;
• Infrastructure – Which considers impacts on private and public physical infrastructure.
The framework assumes that the Provincial Government will direct municipalities in regards to declarations of emergency and lifting of restrictions.
The CAO also said that coordination with municipalities across the region will be an important part of the RRT’s framework.
“We can’t be doing one thing here in Lincoln and have other things happen in various parts of the community or the broader region,” said Kirkopoulos.
During the meeting, Coun. Paul MacPherson asked the CAO how this coordination would be implemented and how stakeholders should approach the RRT for the latest information. Kirkopoulos explained that the team has a number of roles.
“The liaison is one of those key roles,” said Kirkopoulos. “We actually have two liaisons officers.”
One is Lincoln’s emergency management coordinator Cathy McGrath, who will operate “from an agency perspective” by talking to emergency teams from other municipalities. The other is economic development officer Paul Di Ianni, who will aid coordination through his position on the Niagara Region’s Economic Rapid Recovery Team (ERRT).
In a follow-up interview, Di Ianni said that while the town is working closely with Niagara’s ERRT, it is also focussing on local initiatives.
“The Town owes it to our local business community to explore every avenue of how we can help with economic recovery, this includes thinking outside of the box and taking best practices from other jurisdictions and tailoring it for Lincoln,” said Di Ianni.
The RRT’s framework takes into consideration the need to maintain physical distancing and hand-washing protocols “until appropriate precautions or a vaccine is widely available”. It also assumes the possibility of reoccurring cycles of restrictions and the need for Lincoln’s economic recovery to be flexible in such events, should future spikes of COVID-19 appear.
Coun. Mike Mikolic commended the RRT report at May 4’s meeting, and said he wanted to see things keep moving forward.
“It’s important that we don’t lose the gains we’ve made made to flatten the curve,” said Mikolic.
“There could be a potential for a bump or a spike, however at some point we need to pull ourselves out of this.”
Kirkopoulos echoed the councillor in comments from after the May 4 meeting.
“The health and safety of our residents, staff and their collective families remains the Town’s top priority,” said Kirkopoulos.
“However, as we look at recovery, we cannot lose sight of the need to assist local business right now through these uncertain times and plan ahead on how business and our economy can and will function as part of the new realities that lie ahead – realities that will be with us for a bit.”
He stressed that recovery will have to be community driven, and that decisions made today “are going to shape the recovery and shape the way our community looks in the future.”
According to Kirkopoulos, any plan that comes out of the framework the RRT presented will have to include “unique and out of the box” methods to help all sectors in need, from policy changes to new processes, to flexible arrangements for payments.