Municipalities have long been champions of emergency management. We need only think of the floods in recent years that required considerable effort from many municipalities. They responded promptly and successfully to ensure the protection of citizens and the reconstruction of the affected areas.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have ever experienced. First and foremost, this is a health and economic crisis. Not only do municipalities have to go into emergency operating mode to maintain and transform services to citizens, their own operations are significantly impacted.
Once the crisis is over, the recovery of our communities will be a priority. Municipalities will be at the forefront of this recovery and will have to reassess a number of aspects:
Vision and organization
During a crisis, the focus is on immediate, short-term measures. The recovery will require that the focus be re-adjusted to ensure that elected officials continue to have a long-term vision at the heart of their actions. In addition, these profound changes will require a fundamental transformation of management and human resource practices within the municipality.
Finances and taxes
New financial management strategies will need to be developed. Some municipalities may be in a deficit situation in 2020 due to reduced revenues, deferred property tax payments, lower property transfer fees as well as a slow down in additional invoicing and revenues from user-paid leisure and cultural activities. Additionally, it will be difficult to justify a tax increase in 2021, when most citizens will have been financially impacted.
The federal government has already announced investments to foster economic recovery. Municipal infrastructure investment planning must be started quickly in order to take advantage of the infrastructure plans that the governments of Quebec and Canada will put in place.
There are numerous local sports, leisure, cultural and community organizations and it can be expected that there will be significant requests for support. Ensuring that these requests are managed equitably during this period of considerable need, while maintaining community mobilization will be critical. The goal will be to ensure that the service offering to citizens is maintained, and even improved!
Economic development will be paramount and at the heart of recovery. Since the adoption of Bill 122, municipalities can take a leadership role in this respect as a result of the Quebec government transferring management of the $150 million Fonds local d’investissement to them. Cities will also need to quickly establish strategies to revitalize commercial arteries and be proactive in the global local purchasing movement.
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about smart cities. A majority of municipalities have implemented some measures. However, social distancing and the need to isolate have shown that continuing to provide services will depend on the digital transformation of working arrangements and the supply of services to citizens. For example, conducting virtual public consultations could become a way to stay in touch with your citizens. However, this will require that information security be reviewed to counter the constant increase in fraud and cyber attacks and safeguard the integrity of your citizens’ and third parties’ data.
The recovery will therefore be the greatest challenge of the 21st century and will affect all aspects of municipal life. It will require planning, sound management and a great deal of openness, innovation and flexibility to adapt to a world that, we hope, will be better for our communities.
17 Apr 2020 | Written by :