New Brunswick

Saint John reopening plan asks sports groups for help

Saint John councillors have approved a plan for the restoration of more city operations as provincial COVID-19 emergency orders are eased.

Plan would waive fees but could see sports groups take on maintenance role

The city of Saint John is suspending support for organized sports like youth softball as part of its COVID-19 response. Sports organizations will be asked to help out. (Black Bears Girls Youth Softball Facebook)

Organized sports groups will be expected to help out as part of a plan to restore city operations in Saint John after the easing of some COVID-19 restrictions.

City councillors approved the plan Monday evening.

But some city services will not be coming back, at least not this year, and others will not look the way they have in the past.

Such is the case with organized sports such as baseball, where youth organizations can expect little city support and limited field maintenance.

"The bottom line is, for a lot of these services we simply cannot afford to bring them back this year," said city manager, John Collin. "It is not business as usual."

Saint John mayor, Don Darling said groups that use city fields will be asked to take on some of the work required.

"There will be no fees charged," said Darling. "The fields will be available. We need a partnership on maintaining those fields."

Funds eaten by COVID

A city report estimates about $5 million in budgeted revenue from such things as parking, transit fares and recreation fees vanished due to COVID-19.

Council responded with a hiring freeze that extends to casuals normally hired for mowing, playground programming and other recreation-related activities.

Many city programs were shut down around the time of the province's March 19 declaration of a state of emergency.

While street maintenance has since resumed and the city market is stirring to life, other activities like flower planting and recreation programming have been suspended entirely along with such things as a $500 thousand program to apply asphalt overlay as a quick fix to streets in need of major restoration work. 

Splash pads and dog parks are also on the list to reopen, but timelines remain vague as the city continues to work on its plans.

Saint John city manager, John Collin. 'It is not business as usual.' (Connell Smith, CBC)

"It is going to be very difficult to follow the chief medical officer of health guidelines at a splash pad," said Collin.

The city has also asked the province to ease restrictions that limit the number of passengers to nine on public transit buses.

The municipality is proposing instead that passengers be required to wear masks.

Collin says the province has requested more information on the city's transit plan.

In the meantime public attendance at council meetings is unlikely to resume until at least late summer when renovations to the council chambers have been completed.

For several months prior to the COVID-19 emergency council had been meeting in cramped temporary quarters off the mayor's office while major city hall renovations unfold as part of a consolidation to reduce the amount of space leased by the municipality. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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