Opinion: Team Grimsby nails COVID-19 offset

By Mike Williscraft

Grimsby council has had precious little in the way of positive news in the first year-and-a-half of its term.

At its mid-May meeting the site alteration bylaw was finally approved. That was a huge feather in the cap of council to get that done.

Now, for a second meeting in a row, council got perhaps the best news of its term (besides the biodisaster being sold) when CAO Harry Schlange rolled out his much-anticipated COVID-19 response financial update.

Again, extremely positive news in that quick action got the municipality ahead of the financial impact wave and, at this point in time, measures taken should offset the $1.6 million-plus in revenue losses sustained.

The financial impact stories have been rolling out across the region, country and globe regularly in recent weeks. In Niagara, Welland has seen

$4.4 million in revenue losses; St. Catharines, $2.9 million, and; Niagara Falls, $2.8 million.

There is not a whole lot of good news anywhere on the COVID-19 front.

Now, some municipalities will find ways to mitigate these impacts, others won’t quite get there when it comes to matching dollars and have to rely on a tax increase next year to balance the books.

Grimsby, at least for this year – and there is no guarantee for anyone in the future anymore – is in a very strong position having covered the initial impacts via administrative measures.

While this is good news for the Town, as in all COVID-related stories, there are ripple effects and they are not great.

The impacts on staff were major, when one considers:

• Thirty-nine part-time staff were no longer scheduled for work
• Four students laid off at the library
• Fifty-six seasonal positions were put on hold in public works and in parks & rec
• Seven part-time employees temporarily laid off at the library, and
• Based on the closing of schools, the decision was made to temporarily layoff crossing guards.

That is 106 positions, plus the crossing guards (not sure how many there are). That is a lot of people losing revenue to their household incomes and students losing out on summer jobs.

There is no positive spin to that. It hurts.

Sure the government has created programs to support laid off workers, and that helps, but all things being equal, I am sure all would rather be on the job.

And that is not just in Grimsby. Similar measures have been implemented in most communities.

So Grimsby has gotten on a bit of a roll lately. The face shield program the Town got on board with the Downtown Improvement Area board has proven a massive hit, then the site alteration bylaw and now a very progressive and positive outlook on COVID financial impacts. All positive and a good way to attempt to turn the page from a long series of missteps.

That said, in Monday’s meeting – which ran smoothly and should have been wrapped in up just over an hour – a huge off-agenda detour, squabbling, points of order and talking over one another still managed to find its way into the council playbook.

Coun. Dave Sharpe, under the new business portion of the meeting, was determined to have council endorse sending Premier Doug Ford a letter supporting outdoor sports and athletics be opened up.

In the interests of space, I will leave out most of the back and forth, but it is on the Town website if you want to take it in.

Sharpe repeatedly mentioned wanting to get his toddlers out of the house and involved in sports and activities, soccer was mentioned repeatedly.

Tuesday morning he sent an additional email to me noting he meant all kids need to get out and get moving, which they do.

But, nobody is going to pre-empt to pressure the government on what to do. Ford has done a great and difficult job separating politics from public pressure by focusing on and adhering to opinions from his medical experts.

The issue Monday, however, as Mayor Jeff Jordan repeatedly stated, was the circumvention of proper procedure in bringing forward a motion.

There was no research, no staff report, no notice of motion…and councils simply do not operate that way. Schlange was supposed to be brought in to temper the wayward direction of council. If one of the minority four had done this they would have been pommeled. Regardless, it was voted down with councillors Sharpe, Kevin Ritchie and Randy Vaine supporting it.

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