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Coquitlam starts second year of COVID-19 relief plan

Despite its civic layoffs last year, the city of Coquitlam remains committed to supporting the community through the pandemic, by offering a number of relief programs to residents, businesses and non-profits.
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Raul Allueva is the deputy city manager for Coquitlam.

Canada’s economy appears to be rebounding a year after the pandemic lockdown, with 259,000 jobs added last month.

But hundreds of civic employees who worked at city halls in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody are still laid off.

In Coquitlam, nearly 800 auxiliary workers — most of them in the parks and recreation department, who perform work on an as-needed basis — got notices last April; however, about 300 returned in the spring as the provincial health orders (PHO) changed, said Renzo Del Negro, the city’s human resources director.

“As PHO orders transition and we are able to return to full services safely, we will resume our normal staffing levels, which will include recalling our auxiliary staff,” he told the Tri-City News. “The number of auxiliary staff do not equate to the number of positions.”

In Port Coquitlam, the city laid off 190 casual employees and 114 regular city staff — or they were moved to other duties or had their hours reduced — due to the financial fallout from COVID-19. 

To date, 78 employees are still affected, said Rob Bremner, the PoCo’s chief administrative officer, with 58 civic staff working reduced hours, 11 reassigned to temporary jobs and nine laid off.

“We recently recalled 16 recreation employees back to their regular hours of work,” he wrote to the Tri-City News. “We recognize these continue to be challenging times, but want everyone to know we do not make decisions lightly. Our top priority is the safety of the public and our staff.”

And in Port Moody, 370 casual and auxiliary staff were laid off on April 30 and, since then, about 170 of them have returned to work, said Angie Parnell, the city’s general manager of people, communications and engagement.

Compared with last February, there are nearly 600,000 fewer Canadians without work, and another 406,000 more people with reduced hours, putting employment at 3.1% below pre-pandemic levels.

COMMUNITY RESPONSE

In response to the pandemic, Coquitlam last year set aside $5-million in the Community Support and Recovery Plan (CSRP), of which council heard the results on Monday.

To date, the city has allocated $3.2 million to help the community including through donations to the rent and food banks, at $50,000; reduced rates for recreation drop-ins; and grants to non-profits who applied for the pandemic response or revenue recovery streams, namely: 

• Immigrant Link Centre Society ($8,500)

• BC Pets and Friends ($825)

• Hope for Freedom Society ($7,000)

• Theatrix Youtheatre Society ($13,500)

• New View Society ($10,000)

• Tri-Cities Female Hockey ($12,957)

• The People’s Pantry ($8,866)

• Coquitlam Cheetahs ($10,000)

• Coquitlam Youth Orchestra ($12,764)

• Kinsight ($9,473)

• Coastal Sound Music Academy ($5,000)

• Baker’s Corner Preschool ($5,000)

• BC Swish Basketball ($5,000)

• The Kin Club of Coquitlam ($5,000)

• The Evening Optimists Club ($2,000)

• Stage 43 Theatrical Society ($5,000)

• Tri-City Youth Basketball Association ($5,000)

• Hyack Swim Club ($5,000)

• Rotary Club of Coquitlam ($4,000)

• Crossroads Hospice Society ($5,000)

• Fraser North Community Volunteer Connections Society ($5,000)

• Coquitlam Lions Water Polo ($5,000)

And another $2.1 million in supports will be (or have been already) rolled out this year — many of them for outdoor events and activities. 

They include: expanding of public wifi to Galloway, Riley, Sheffield, Brookmere, Mundy Park (dog area) and Blue Mountain (tennis courts) parks plus at city facilities, at a cost of $330,000; updating the Get Connected, Get Active recreation program for low-income families, for $250,000; and providing a special event assistant to ensure provincial health orders are met, for $9,000.

Also this spring, the city will offer free tents and covered spaces to businesses and groups, to host outdoor events safely. To book a space, visit coquitlam.ca/outdoorshelter.

Speaking to council-in-committee on Monday, deputy city manager Raul Allueva described the CSRP as an “unprecedented program” that has allowed the city and community to pivot in tough years, and complement senior government help.

Coun. Trish Mandewo said that Coquitlam’s COVID relief fund is being noticed by other local governments around B.C. 

“I can’t believe it’s been a year,” Coun. Steve Kim said. “When I think back [to last March], it was Festival du Bois and the Rugby 7s and the Share gala. Look how far we’ve come despite the tough year… certainly, the CSRP has provided some good light during this time.”

Kim also praised the volunteers helping to deliver frozen meals for the 55-plus pavilion members, and singled out the city’s tourism manager for connecting with local business owners to spur economic growth.

“The impact on municipalities in B.C. has been enormous and many municipalities are struggling themselves just to get by,” said Coun. Craig Hodge, committee chair. “I think it’s amazing that Coquitlam has been able to weather this storm but also make a contribution to our community groups. We have gone well beyond what other cities have done.”

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