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The Resort Municipality of Whistler is laying off all casual and auxiliary staff

Council meetings to resume (online) on April 7
Workers fence off a park in Whistler Village on Tuesday, March 25, as the effects of COVID-19 continue to take their toll on the community. PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS

Like the virus itself, the impacts of COVID-19 continue to spread.

On Wednesday, March 25, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) announced it would temporarily lay off all casual and auxiliary employees effective Monday, April 13.

The layoffs will affect more than 200 part-time employees in the resort, said chief administrative officer Mike Furey.

"When we're talking casual and auxiliary, you think of Meadow Park staff such as lifeguards; we have casual staff in the library. The vast majority are part time," Furey said.

"We are working to keep the RMOW as operational as possible, and we still have our full-time permanent staff [and] part-time permanent staff in place ... we look at those as temporary layoffs, and we look forward to a time when we can welcome those staff back to our organization-it was a very difficult decision to make."

Other positions affected include (but are not limited to): fitness instructors, program leaders, village hosts, facility maintenance, labourers, environmental coordinators, parking and bylaw enforcement, and youth leaders.

The RMOW's emergency operations committee has had a busy week responding to the developing crisis, with about 40 municipal staff now connected on a remote basis to keep operations running.

"As we get further, we keep anticipating new changes, like for example, what happens if there is a significant outbreak of COVID-19 in Whistler? We need to plan for that. What happens if there is an outbreak amongst staff? We need to plan for that and have backups on backups," Furey said.

"We also have to keep critical utilities in place-water, sewer and waste management, and keeping our roads [maintained] etc., so that has really expanded."

The municipality also has staff working on the resort's eventual economic recovery.

"Obviously we want to come out of the gate and hit the road running," Furey said.

"We're also wanting to make sure we are on top of and avail ourselves of any federal [or] provincial funds that might come out in terms of tourism recovery."

In the meantime, municipal staff is trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy amongst the swirling chaos of COVID-19.

Plans are in place to host council meetings online (with only the mayor and key staff physically in attendance) starting on April 7, while director of finance Carlee Price is working to update the resort's financial situation on a daily basis.

Municipal and Regional District tax (or hotel tax) income is set to take a hit with the steep drop in visitation, which will have an impact.

"Fortunately, we entered this crisis in a sound fiscal position ... but we're planning that this could go on for some time, and it's a real challenge to plan for the unknown," Furey said.

"We're looking at all our current vendors, including projects, making very careful and informed, thoughtful decisions."

On projects in particular, the crisis presents itself as multi-faceted.

"We want to save carefully for this unknown future; at the same time, our projects inject funds into the community's economy ... if we can do it in a social-distancing manner, that keeps some money flowing in the community," Furey said, adding that it may be a good time to do some projects given disruption is often a challenge in any normal spring and summer period.

"So yes, we are looking at all and any projects, and Carlee Price is doing an amazing job of keeping that up to date. I can't tell you of any specific decisions we've made so far, but that is top of mind."

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