Shoppers line up outside the Costco store in Newton on Tuesday afternoon, April 28. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Surrey seeing ‘strong compliance’ with pandemic guidelines, city manager says

City report indicates majority of people are ‘acting responsibly’

Surrey city manager Vincent Lalonde says the COVID-19 Compliance and Enforcement Team has reported “strong compliance” in this city with the provincial medical health officer’s directions related to the pandemic, at 99.2 per cent.

Lalonde noted in a corporate report to council that the 0.8 percent that were not in compliance “voluntarily elected to do so after a short conversation by team members on the importance of complying with these directions.”

Surrey’s Emergency Operations Centre, or EOC, was activated on Feb. 17, prior to the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic.

The Compliance and Enforcement Team, established March 26 and comprised of the Surrey RCMP and city bylaws officers, completed 4,280 “proactive visits” and patrols between then and April 14, finding 36 instances of “non-compliance.”

There were 339 checks at banquet halls, 691 at temples and churches, 74 at recovery homes, 577 at restaurants and bars, 585 at “essential business services” such as grocery stores and banks, 636 at retail and personal service stores, 65 at industrial sites, 51 at construction sites, 17 at private residences, 444 at school grounds and 801 at parks.

“I’m pleased to see the majority of the citizens of Surrey acting responsibly and making huge sacrifices,” said Councillor Doug Elford. “No one really knows when we will be moving on from this.”

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According to Lalonde’s report, Surrey Fire Service since April 2 responded to 37 incidents daily, on average. In comparison it responded to 82 incidents per day on average in April 2019. That makes for a reduction of 54 per cent.

The reduction can be attributed largely to a 90 per cent drop in firefighters attending medical incidents compared to the same period last year – as BC Emergency Health Services recommended to reduce exposure risk for firefighters – and their response to non-medical calls fell by 20 per cent because of the stay-at-home recommendations.

As for the Surrey RCMP, between April 2 and April 14 the city’s detachment received on average 532 calls for service daily, and dispatched officers “to an average of 400 incidents per day.”

Lalonde noted that while the fire department experienced a “significant” reduction – 54 per cent in calls – the Surrey RCMP’s calls appear “fairly consistent,” being dispatched to roughly seven per cent more calls.

His report also covered the city’s stash of COVID-19 related supplies.

“At present the City has a sufficient supply of most critical supplies to last for the next 30 days,” Lalonde noted in his report, presented to council on April 20. “The EOC is continuing to increase its inventory of its supplies and has recently retained a local manufacturer to produce 3,000 cloth masks for use when N-95 or surgical masks are not necessary.”

Lalonde could not be reached before press time for an update.

Councillor Jack Hundial said the situation changes daily.

“As equipment gets procured, it comes in inventory and is depleted as we move forward,” he said. “At this point I haven’t heard of any shortages really.”

Ray Kerr, Surrey’s manager of engineering operations, said Tuesday that the city’s current inventory of supplies is “well beyond that.”

Kerr is also the logistics chief in the EOC structure.

“On average, we’re close to 120 days, but there are some things that we’re still identifying as possible issues at the 90-day mark. I would be comfortable in saying that we currently have a 90-day supply rather than the 30 one that was originally written,” he said. “Our inventory dashboard includes cleaning supplies such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants, that type of thing, and PPE (personal protective equipment) which would include face shields, gloves, gowns, masks.”

Meantime, as of April 15, roughly 33.6 per cent of city staff have been working from home whereas 59.4 per cent are working at their “respective facility,” some 3.6 per cent were sick or in quarantine and not able to work, and 3.3 per cent were on vacation.

“Use of the Microsoft Teams meeting environment by staff has increased significantly from 113 online meetings in February 2020, to 2,392 in March 2020,” Lalonde noted in his report. “A new remote connection capability has been introduced to improve performance and has made possible 675,000+ remote sign-ins to the City network in the last 30 days.”

On top of the aforementioned proactive measures, between March 26-April 14, 2020 the Surrey RCMP received 331 calls and complaints from residents concerning non-compliance with COVID-19 related public health orders, and police officers were dispatched to 310 of these calls.

Meantime, city staff are forecasting a budget shortfall of between $37 million and $42 million, on account of COVID-19. According to Lalonde’s report, this includes $24 million to $25 million in revenue loss from the closure of city facilities, between $4 million and $4.5 million in BC Gaming revenue reduction due to casino closures in Surrey, a $4.5 million reduction in investment income, and $27.5 million to $31 million in lost revenue from leases, bylaws, permits, licences and other departmental fees.

“It is imperative to note that property taxes are by far the most crucial revenue stream for the city, making up 72 per cent of our general revenue budget for 2020,” the city manager noted.

“Staff at this point are financially modelling based on the assumption that there will be no significant increase in the delinquency rate of property taxes paid, if this variable changes based on new information, then staff will need to update the forecast and will report back to council.”

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