Mayor Brian Bowman took time out from a council meeting on the budget Friday to assure Winnipeggers they will continue to receive essential city services during the provincial state of emergency.
“Your water will keep running, Transit will keep operating and if you have an emergency, you can still call 911,” Bowman told reporters.
The city also approved providing some tax relief to residents and business owners, but the plan is still being worked out by the public service.
But the city will be reducing some of the services it still offers.
Effective at the end of the day Friday, front counter services will end for the parking authority, animal services, community services and the assessment and taxation department.
Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Assistant Chief Jason Shaw said residents can still connect to city services online or through the 311 phone lines.
Fire paramedic stations are now closed to public access but emergency services can be reached by calling 911.
“There is no need to panic or worry that you will not receive city of Winnipeg essential services,” Shaw said.
City employees who can work from home have been encouraged to do so, but essential staff will go to work and follow social distancing measures.
The provincial state of emergency bans “public gatherings of more than 50 people at any indoor or outdoor place or premises,” but Shaw could not say how or when the Winnipeg Police Service would enforce the directive.
“We just received these public health orders and what I can tell you is we are assessing how we are going to work with the provincial government … we will be able to answer those questions more thoroughly later on,” Shaw said.
As added measure of protection against the spread of coronavirus, Winnipeg Transit will no longer use the small fraction of its fleet of 640 buses that do not have a safety shield around the driver’s seat.
The shields had been installed as a measure to keep the drivers isolated from unruly passengers.
Tax relief from city on the way
City council voted unanimously for an amendment to the budget to give the civil service authority to develop a property and business tax deferral plan.
The entire budget was passed by a vote of 11 to 3.
Bowman said his preference would have been to make a decision Friday to provide an automatic 90-day deferral of property and business taxes, but he said there are some concerns still to be worked through by the city’s public service.
The city’s financial liquidity and its responsibility to collect education taxes on behalf of school divisions have yet to be fully understood.
“The intent is to try and find a way to provide that relief for businesses and homeowners that we know are hurting right now,” Bowman said. “We want to know what other options are available to us.”
The city will also look waiving late charges on fees if its payment system is affected by the health emergency.
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