Salmon Arm Council prepares to make a motion on March 18 to close city-owned facilities effective 8 a.m. on Thursday, March 19. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

City of Salmon Arm takes the big leap in response to COVID-19

Mayor says some people will say decision is over-reacting, he hopes it’s too much, not too little

The City of Salmon has announced that city-owned and operated facilities will be closing their doors as of 8 a.m. Thursday, March 19.

At a special council meeting March 18, city council unanimously passed a motion to close to the public the following city-owned facilities: SASCU Recreation Centre, Shaw Centre, Little Mountain Fieldhouse, SASCU Indoor Memorial Sports Complex, city hall, the public works complex and fire halls.

However, such facilities will be open for business via alternate means such as email and telephone only. The regular staff complement will remain at work, a situation which will be determined by the chief administrative officer as the pandemic evolves.

Added to the public closures are those on city properties leased to other providers.

These properties will be given a little more time to prepare, as the closure will take effect at the end of the business day on Friday, March 20. They include the Salmon Arm Art Gallery, 5th Avenue Seniors Activity Centre, the Seniors’ Resource Centre on Second Avenue NE, the Senior Citizens Drop-In Centre on Hudson Avenue NE, the curling club, R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum, the lawn bowling facility, the horseshoe pits and the tennis courts.

Regarding the leased properties, Mayor Alan Harrison remarked: “We know that this is going to create some hardship for some of those clubs and some of those places. It’s the right thing to do. Rather than have individual properties that are leased by the city having to make very difficult decisions and perhaps different decisions, I think it best the elected council who’s been elected to make difficult decisions, make a carte blanche decision based on the best interests of all the citizens of Salmon Arm.”

Read more: B.C. declares state of emergency, recalling legislature for COVID-19

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Other council members referred to the need for the city to take leadership and have a relatively consistent stance.

“I think the city is showing leadership for members of the community, and an example to follow for many private businesses to take this pandemic seriously…,” Coun. Chad Eliason said.

Council meetings will still take place in city hall for now, but any items expected to attract more than 50 people will be put off until later.

On Tuesday, March 17, Salmon Arm council and other councils and regional districts throughout the province took part in a conference call with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Selina Robinson.

“The tenor of that call was very understanding, empathetic, compassionate, but very serious…” said Harrison.

“I think what you’re seeing from local government and from this table, is what some might think is an over-reaction. My answer to that is, I hope it is. Because if it an over-reaction and we are able to stem the spread of this virus, we’ve done the right thing and we might never know. The alternative is not to react and we’ve seen throughout the world, places that have reacted slowly, it’s too late once you realize you’ve reacted too slowly.”

Harrison said decisions are being made with two main focuses: one, the health and safety of residents and the city’s employees and two, the delivery of essential services. Essential services are being defined as: the sewage treatment plant, water treatment plant, fire fighters and RCMP. That is our focus, that through this pandemic we maintain.

He assured that although facilities will be closed to the public, for city employees “there is a lot for them to do in places like the rec centre and Shaw Centre and other facilities we have. They will continue to be paid.”

A final part of the city’s motion, which was to remedy a problem reported by several municipalities, was to give authority to the city’s chief administrative officer to make decisions without the necessity of time-consuming procedures involved in calling a special meeting of council. The city could have acted sooner on facility closures had it not been for the bureaucratic requirements.

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