Report states Kneehill adapted well to COVID-19 pandemic

Kneehill County’s operations have adapted relatively well to the coronavirus pandemic, heard council at their regular meeting May 12, with staff working on new projects and bringing in some new considerations.

During a detailed update from Kneehill County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen, councillors heard how the municipality has been adapting to the pandemic and even trying to find a few silver linings.

“The COVID-19 Pandemic event has placed a number of issues and pressures on the county and its operations,” stated Haugen in his report to council.

“As a result, a number of new considerations and protocols have been put in place in order to protect staff and the public. 

“While the nature or provision of some services has changed, other services have largely continued in their normal way. 

“In addition to normal duties, many departments have been able to resource staff differently in order to tackle outstanding projects or initiatives.”

Haugen showed a chart illustrating how the Planning Services department has been affected by the economy’s shutdown. 

Virtually all of the areas Planning usually deals with were down significantly in number, such as subdivisions.

In 2019, the county handled 27, but so far in 2020 there have only been 12. However, Haugen stated with much talk of reopening the economy step by step, there’s optimism those numbers will jump.

Haugen stated the Communications department had plenty to handle.

“During COVID-19, Communications has continued promoting regular County business–implementing communications plans (ex. Emergency Preparedness week, dust control, tax rates, fire restrictions, scholarships) including website updates,” stated Haugen.

“Council communications such as live-tweeting council meetings, updating the website with digital agenda and minutes, time-stamping the council live stream, preparing council notes and council debriefs has been maintained.

“On top of normal county business, communications is also playing an active role in Kneehill County’s Emergency Coordination Centre, monitoring updates from the Alberta government and adding new COVID-19 information to our website.”

The CAO stated municipal staff had time to convert paper files to electronic. 

“While the front desk is still answering calls and emails, they have able been able to take on the digitization of County files,” stated Haugen’s report. 

“During this pandemic event, almost 16,000 pages have been scanned into the county’s electronic filing system.”

The Ag Services department has been busy with COVID-19 measures.

“Agricultural Services has reduced some staffing requirements as a result of service closures (campgrounds, etc.),” stated the CAO.

“Work has been undertaken to ensure that plans are in place to open recreation sites and campgrounds which could occur soon.

Some sites such as Horseshoe Canyon have still required staff time to monitor maintenance issues such as slope stabilization and operational concerns such as picking up garbage.

“Signage at these sites has been put up and requires ongoing maintenance.

“Other plan developments such as the Horseshoe Canyon public engagement process continue to be developed so that processes can be continued once pandemic recovery allows.

“Agricultural Services has developed some information on the provincial recreation sites within the county that are being closed by the province and once the province releases more information will prepare this discussion for council.

“Reporting on Agricultural Service Board (ASB) grants as well as application for future ASB grants has been maintained.

“Two per cent strychnine sales were postponed, but were able to take place and the county has sold out of the product.”

The coronavirus pandemic didn’t reduce the workload of county peace officers by much. 

“Rural patrols by the peace officers are continuing and increasing in kilometres, including three suspicious vehicle call-ins,” stated the CAO’s report.

“Additionally, bylaw enforcement for Kneehill and for area municipalities are increasing. 

We have received 27 information contact reports and 23 incident/bylaw reports, five fire incident assist with traffic, one RCMP assist and one emergency management response. 

Work on the Citizens in Action program (for schools), bylaw reviews, development of regional emergency management services, evacuation mapping and Fire Standard Operation guidelines continues.”

Haugen noted Transportation promoted isolation protocols. 

“The Transportation department has seen little change to daily operations necessary to complete the level of service set by council,” he stated in his report.

“While we had some staff self-isolations, we were able to keep going on the daily duties and address any road concerns that came up this spring. 

Staff have been operating under isolation and segregation protocols.

“Crews have continued to work on problem areas and normal summer grader operations have started. During spring melt crews were able to stay on top of issues and put in weekend work to attempt to stay on or ahead of issues.”

Haugen stated that, generally, the county appears to have adapted relatively well to the pandemic.

“The County as a whole has been able to conduct most normal business activities, while progressing a number of tasks,” stated the CAO. 

“This was also done while adopting the new organizational structure that was previously presented to Council.”

 

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.

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