Eganville – Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy is planning to continue to lead by example in 2021 finding the best way to work within the

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As she prepared for yet another virtual meeting of council, the mayor said it is not only about safety but about setting an example of following guidelines and protocols.

“We have to lead by example,” the mayor said.

Council had a lengthy discussion in December about going back to council chambers for meetings instead of conducting them via ZOOM. However, there were some issues with a test run of a few councillors in the chamber and using the system in place there already for recording meetings. Because of COVID-19 protocols, members of council must sit further back and this was an issue for the recorder to pick up the voices. Some members of the public and members of council felt the ones in the chamber were difficult to hear.

Council had made the decision to invest in this recording device previously and had been recoding meetings and sharing them via YouTube before the pandemic began.

Mayor Murphy said the sound quality would have to be dealt with before all of council could resume meeting in person.

“As long as people can hear us, I am fine,” she said. “I would love to go back, if we can do it safely.”

Looking to the year ahead, council will not only continue to navigate the pandemic, but also is planning on various activities, she said. In 2021, BV is hoping to host a South Korea Day which had previously been tentatively planned for 2020. The mayor said while the South Korean Embassy has been preparing to come, the decision was made to hold off until 2021 to have a bigger event.

“We are also figuring out a way to do Canada Day,” she said.

While that celebration is still six months away and the restrictions in place at that time are still unknown, the mayor said it was important to look at different scenarios.

“We used to think we could plan out the year, and now we are sort of going month to month,” she said. “We still need to look toward the future.”

It is important to have a resumption of activities in the community when it is safe to do so, she said.

“Planning events will give us all a sense of normal,” Mayor Murphy added.

The Eganville and Area Community Development Group has some exciting things planned at McRae Park, as well as a new fishing dock in the village. The mayor is also very much looking forward to the new mural project planned by the group.

In 2021, the township will also be revamping the Asset Management Plan.

With the province entering lockdown on December 26, and BV part of the Southern Ontario 28-day lockdown, it is a different beginning of the year in the township and the village. Non-essential businesses are closed or only allowed to provide curbside pick-up or online shopping. The arena is closed and the library is providing curbside pickup. The mayor said she has received a few calls, but people are following the protocols set out by the province.

“We are following the guidelines of public health,” she said.

As part of her new responsibilities through the County of Renfrew she will become much more acquatinted with the workings of public health as she takes a seat at the Board of Health for the Renfrew County District Health Unit. In 2020, the role of the health unit became more visible than ever for many in the community because of the COVID-19 protocols, guidance and information released from there.

Mayor Murphy has been providing updates at council meetings about information relayed to her from the province regarding COVID and said she will continue to do so. On Tuesday she updated council about the vaccination rollout. Information sharing from the province to council about pandemic issues has been excellent, she said.

“The province has been so good about talking to us,” she said. “More so than I have ever experienced as mayor.”

Decade As Mayor

Mayor Murphy quietly celebrated a decade as mayor in December, and as she reflected on 2020, she said it was the busiest year for her since assuming the job in December 2010 despite the lack of public events or out of town meetings.

“People had more access to us,” she said. “We were more available for impromptu meetings. I’ve never had the time before to delve into some issues like this.”

As the “boots on the ground” municipal politicians are often the front line the public encounters when they are unhappy or confused about government regulations, she explained. The changes brought in by COVID-19 were no exception. Mayor Murphy said she fielded questions about not only government programs in response to the pandemic, but also questions about the vaccine rollout, as well as queries about local services like the library or the arena.

“It was a difficult year,” she said. “Expectations were high. People wanted answers we could not always give.”

The mayor said she did her best to find answers and help people navigate different programs.

“I did not mind taking the time for those phone calls,” she said. “If someone needed my help, I did my best.”

As far as the municipality is concerned, it was a productive year with major repair work on the main bridge in the village as well as the completion of the service delivery review. She said this review – which looked for efficiencies in the municipality – was something council took quite seriously. Although not all recommendations were implemented, the review was a very positive experience, she said.

“And we still managed to keep on budget and apply for grants,” she said.

Eganville was one of the only communities in the Ottawa Valley which had Canada Day fireworks and this worked very well, the mayor said.

“It was unique,” she said.

A good follow up was the Home for the Holidays Celebration which the township supported and which was another way of celebrating virtually.

“We took a bad situation and tried to make it better,” she said.

Because of the financial stresses on ratepayers due to the first shutdown and COVID, the township made the decision to provide relief from penalty and interest charges on tax payments from March to August 31. Fortunately, provincial grants have ensured the municipality was able to make up the shortfall because of this. Giving the ratepayers flexibility to pay property taxes was the right thing to do in those early days of the pandemic, she said.

“It provided a little relief from penalties and interest for people who were uncertain about their jobs,” she said.

The mayor said she was also very pleased to see how the community has come together to help each other during COVID. She pointed out the “amazing successes” through the It Takes a Village group on Facebook which helps people in the Eganville area connect to find or give help, especially regarding COVID pandemic issues.

“We had a lot of outreach,” she said. “There are needs being taken care of.

“It has been amazing to see the best of humanity,” she said. “The generosity and caring of the community.”

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader