Hamilton officials hear cries to reopen city, but are focused on protecting residents

News Apr 17, 2020 by Kevin Werner Stoney Creek News

As Hamilton and the rest of the province enters the second month of what could be a long stretch of closed businesses, shuttered facilities and taped off playground structures, officials are continuing to deal with the immediate impacts the novel coronavirus is having on the community, while glancing at how to reopen the city once the virus has settled down.

“We are starting to focus our attention to what the next phase will look like over the next few months,” said Emergency Operations Centre Director Paul Johnson during a recent virtual town hall meeting. “The planning work has to start today. As challenging as it was to close down some of these services (and) programs, I should think it will be even more challenging how we safely and effectively open services.”

Hamilton closed all of its publicly-owned facilities, including libraries, child care centres and Ontario Works buildings, on March 15, and they are scheduled to remain closed until at least May 25. The province’s state of emergency has already been extended by 28 days to mid-May and schools are still closed up to the first week of May.

In an effort to oversee some pressing decisions — the emergency operations centre has taken over most day-to-day decisions during this pandemic — that have to be made at the political level, Hamilton councillors held its first meeting March 20 after all city committees, boards and other agencies had cancelled their meetings. On April 8 councillors conducted their first virtual council meeting and they are scheduled to hold once-a-week general issues committee and council meetings in the foreseeable future.

The mayor has been conducting virtual town hall meetings along with Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, medical officer of health and Johnson answering residents’ questions and to keep the community informed about actions the city is taking to combat the pandemic.

Hamilton is already projecting a $20-million budget deficit by the end of May, with the possibility, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, that the deficit could rise to $50 million as the virus continues throughout the year. To conserve its cash the city is laying off 1,200 part-time workers starting May 5, to save about $250,000.

Eisenberger said he, along with other municipal officials, are talking to the federal and provincial governments about needed emergency funding to cover the municipal expenses that are piling up.

The city’s emergency services continue to be provided, while transit service continues, but on a reduced schedule. Waste collection is ongoing, but leaf and yard waste was cancelled because of a manpower shortage, said Johnson. Other services that remain in operation include water and wastewater; some capital projects identified as essential are moving forward; and bylaw enforcement has been stepped up, particularly when it comes to enforcing the city’s recently passed and controversial physical distancing measure that comes with a $500 fine. Bylaw officers are also cracking down on public gatherings and issuing tickets especially at Albion Falls and along parks and trails where some residents continue to ignore the public gathering orders.

The city took the usual step of closing the popular escarpment stairs and dog parks because people were ignoring physical distancing requirements.

"Some people may think it's easy to shut down all the city buildings and keep everything going," said Johnson. "Well, it's not."

Eisenberger said the city hasn’t hired additional bylaw officers to address the higher workload, but acknowledges the department is prioritizing offences such as property standards.

“We are still encouraging people to call into the city’s hotline. We will log their complaints and it just may not be as prompt as you might have expected in other circumstances,” he said.

While the city has not prohibited people from walking through parks, anything in the park, such as a bench, play structure, tennis court or clubhouse is closed, some of them identified with yellow tape and warning signs.

The city isn’t enforcing on-street or parking lot violations, but bylaw officers are still issuing tickets to vehicles if they are parked in front of a hydrant or parking in a no-parking zone.

Other city services have been cancelled, including applying for civil marriage licenses, which was scheduled to start for the first time April 1, and recreation program fees, which have also significantly reduced the city’s revenue.

But politicians and officials are repeating as many times as possible that the city is still open for business and it is still accepting building permits and planning applications. Building inspectors are still going out to construction sites but are maintaining physical distancing.

The city did keep the Hamilton Farmers’ Market open, while road, sidewalk and bikeway operations and maintenance continue, and while golf courses are closed, staff are still maintaining the grounds.

Hamilton has spent an extra $24 million in coronavirus-related expenses in public health, Ontario Works and housing programs. The funding has been invested into opening FirstOntario Centre as a shelter, while also partnering with area hotels, also for shelters for the homeless. The city has also contributed funding to long-term care facilities for extra cleaning, training and staff. Johnson said there are about 10,000 people who congregate in shelters and other temporary facilities that are in need of help.

Still, there are cries in the community, especially from businesses, asking when the city will reopen.

Eisenberger said nobody knows since the virus “has its own timeline.”

He said once the coronavirus numbers are stable or are declining, he will create a task force composed of stakeholder groups to determine how is the best way to reopen the city. So far, no plan is in place to reopen the city, he said, but any discussion about reopening facilities and allowing businesses to unlock their doors will include advice from public health officials.

“It’s going to be determined by what level of the virus is still out there,” he said. “There are a whole range of things that are possible depending upon the virus spread.

Hamilton officials focus on flattening the coronavirus curve, but keep an eye to future recovery

Hamilton's #essentialservices are still operating

News Apr 17, 2020 by Kevin Werner Stoney Creek News

As Hamilton and the rest of the province enters the second month of what could be a long stretch of closed businesses, shuttered facilities and taped off playground structures, officials are continuing to deal with the immediate impacts the novel coronavirus is having on the community, while glancing at how to reopen the city once the virus has settled down.

“We are starting to focus our attention to what the next phase will look like over the next few months,” said Emergency Operations Centre Director Paul Johnson during a recent virtual town hall meeting. “The planning work has to start today. As challenging as it was to close down some of these services (and) programs, I should think it will be even more challenging how we safely and effectively open services.”

Hamilton closed all of its publicly-owned facilities, including libraries, child care centres and Ontario Works buildings, on March 15, and they are scheduled to remain closed until at least May 25. The province’s state of emergency has already been extended by 28 days to mid-May and schools are still closed up to the first week of May.

In an effort to oversee some pressing decisions — the emergency operations centre has taken over most day-to-day decisions during this pandemic — that have to be made at the political level, Hamilton councillors held its first meeting March 20 after all city committees, boards and other agencies had cancelled their meetings. On April 8 councillors conducted their first virtual council meeting and they are scheduled to hold once-a-week general issues committee and council meetings in the foreseeable future.

Related Content

The mayor has been conducting virtual town hall meetings along with Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, medical officer of health and Johnson answering residents’ questions and to keep the community informed about actions the city is taking to combat the pandemic.

Hamilton is already projecting a $20-million budget deficit by the end of May, with the possibility, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, that the deficit could rise to $50 million as the virus continues throughout the year. To conserve its cash the city is laying off 1,200 part-time workers starting May 5, to save about $250,000.

Eisenberger said he, along with other municipal officials, are talking to the federal and provincial governments about needed emergency funding to cover the municipal expenses that are piling up.

The city’s emergency services continue to be provided, while transit service continues, but on a reduced schedule. Waste collection is ongoing, but leaf and yard waste was cancelled because of a manpower shortage, said Johnson. Other services that remain in operation include water and wastewater; some capital projects identified as essential are moving forward; and bylaw enforcement has been stepped up, particularly when it comes to enforcing the city’s recently passed and controversial physical distancing measure that comes with a $500 fine. Bylaw officers are also cracking down on public gatherings and issuing tickets especially at Albion Falls and along parks and trails where some residents continue to ignore the public gathering orders.

The city took the usual step of closing the popular escarpment stairs and dog parks because people were ignoring physical distancing requirements.

"Some people may think it's easy to shut down all the city buildings and keep everything going," said Johnson. "Well, it's not."

Eisenberger said the city hasn’t hired additional bylaw officers to address the higher workload, but acknowledges the department is prioritizing offences such as property standards.

“We are still encouraging people to call into the city’s hotline. We will log their complaints and it just may not be as prompt as you might have expected in other circumstances,” he said.

While the city has not prohibited people from walking through parks, anything in the park, such as a bench, play structure, tennis court or clubhouse is closed, some of them identified with yellow tape and warning signs.

The city isn’t enforcing on-street or parking lot violations, but bylaw officers are still issuing tickets to vehicles if they are parked in front of a hydrant or parking in a no-parking zone.

Other city services have been cancelled, including applying for civil marriage licenses, which was scheduled to start for the first time April 1, and recreation program fees, which have also significantly reduced the city’s revenue.

But politicians and officials are repeating as many times as possible that the city is still open for business and it is still accepting building permits and planning applications. Building inspectors are still going out to construction sites but are maintaining physical distancing.

The city did keep the Hamilton Farmers’ Market open, while road, sidewalk and bikeway operations and maintenance continue, and while golf courses are closed, staff are still maintaining the grounds.

Hamilton has spent an extra $24 million in coronavirus-related expenses in public health, Ontario Works and housing programs. The funding has been invested into opening FirstOntario Centre as a shelter, while also partnering with area hotels, also for shelters for the homeless. The city has also contributed funding to long-term care facilities for extra cleaning, training and staff. Johnson said there are about 10,000 people who congregate in shelters and other temporary facilities that are in need of help.

Still, there are cries in the community, especially from businesses, asking when the city will reopen.

Eisenberger said nobody knows since the virus “has its own timeline.”

He said once the coronavirus numbers are stable or are declining, he will create a task force composed of stakeholder groups to determine how is the best way to reopen the city. So far, no plan is in place to reopen the city, he said, but any discussion about reopening facilities and allowing businesses to unlock their doors will include advice from public health officials.

“It’s going to be determined by what level of the virus is still out there,” he said. “There are a whole range of things that are possible depending upon the virus spread.

Hamilton officials focus on flattening the coronavirus curve, but keep an eye to future recovery

Hamilton's #essentialservices are still operating

News Apr 17, 2020 by Kevin Werner Stoney Creek News

As Hamilton and the rest of the province enters the second month of what could be a long stretch of closed businesses, shuttered facilities and taped off playground structures, officials are continuing to deal with the immediate impacts the novel coronavirus is having on the community, while glancing at how to reopen the city once the virus has settled down.

“We are starting to focus our attention to what the next phase will look like over the next few months,” said Emergency Operations Centre Director Paul Johnson during a recent virtual town hall meeting. “The planning work has to start today. As challenging as it was to close down some of these services (and) programs, I should think it will be even more challenging how we safely and effectively open services.”

Hamilton closed all of its publicly-owned facilities, including libraries, child care centres and Ontario Works buildings, on March 15, and they are scheduled to remain closed until at least May 25. The province’s state of emergency has already been extended by 28 days to mid-May and schools are still closed up to the first week of May.

In an effort to oversee some pressing decisions — the emergency operations centre has taken over most day-to-day decisions during this pandemic — that have to be made at the political level, Hamilton councillors held its first meeting March 20 after all city committees, boards and other agencies had cancelled their meetings. On April 8 councillors conducted their first virtual council meeting and they are scheduled to hold once-a-week general issues committee and council meetings in the foreseeable future.

Related Content

The mayor has been conducting virtual town hall meetings along with Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, medical officer of health and Johnson answering residents’ questions and to keep the community informed about actions the city is taking to combat the pandemic.

Hamilton is already projecting a $20-million budget deficit by the end of May, with the possibility, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger, that the deficit could rise to $50 million as the virus continues throughout the year. To conserve its cash the city is laying off 1,200 part-time workers starting May 5, to save about $250,000.

Eisenberger said he, along with other municipal officials, are talking to the federal and provincial governments about needed emergency funding to cover the municipal expenses that are piling up.

The city’s emergency services continue to be provided, while transit service continues, but on a reduced schedule. Waste collection is ongoing, but leaf and yard waste was cancelled because of a manpower shortage, said Johnson. Other services that remain in operation include water and wastewater; some capital projects identified as essential are moving forward; and bylaw enforcement has been stepped up, particularly when it comes to enforcing the city’s recently passed and controversial physical distancing measure that comes with a $500 fine. Bylaw officers are also cracking down on public gatherings and issuing tickets especially at Albion Falls and along parks and trails where some residents continue to ignore the public gathering orders.

The city took the usual step of closing the popular escarpment stairs and dog parks because people were ignoring physical distancing requirements.

"Some people may think it's easy to shut down all the city buildings and keep everything going," said Johnson. "Well, it's not."

Eisenberger said the city hasn’t hired additional bylaw officers to address the higher workload, but acknowledges the department is prioritizing offences such as property standards.

“We are still encouraging people to call into the city’s hotline. We will log their complaints and it just may not be as prompt as you might have expected in other circumstances,” he said.

While the city has not prohibited people from walking through parks, anything in the park, such as a bench, play structure, tennis court or clubhouse is closed, some of them identified with yellow tape and warning signs.

The city isn’t enforcing on-street or parking lot violations, but bylaw officers are still issuing tickets to vehicles if they are parked in front of a hydrant or parking in a no-parking zone.

Other city services have been cancelled, including applying for civil marriage licenses, which was scheduled to start for the first time April 1, and recreation program fees, which have also significantly reduced the city’s revenue.

But politicians and officials are repeating as many times as possible that the city is still open for business and it is still accepting building permits and planning applications. Building inspectors are still going out to construction sites but are maintaining physical distancing.

The city did keep the Hamilton Farmers’ Market open, while road, sidewalk and bikeway operations and maintenance continue, and while golf courses are closed, staff are still maintaining the grounds.

Hamilton has spent an extra $24 million in coronavirus-related expenses in public health, Ontario Works and housing programs. The funding has been invested into opening FirstOntario Centre as a shelter, while also partnering with area hotels, also for shelters for the homeless. The city has also contributed funding to long-term care facilities for extra cleaning, training and staff. Johnson said there are about 10,000 people who congregate in shelters and other temporary facilities that are in need of help.

Still, there are cries in the community, especially from businesses, asking when the city will reopen.

Eisenberger said nobody knows since the virus “has its own timeline.”

He said once the coronavirus numbers are stable or are declining, he will create a task force composed of stakeholder groups to determine how is the best way to reopen the city. So far, no plan is in place to reopen the city, he said, but any discussion about reopening facilities and allowing businesses to unlock their doors will include advice from public health officials.

“It’s going to be determined by what level of the virus is still out there,” he said. “There are a whole range of things that are possible depending upon the virus spread.