Recapping Vaughan’s Response Efforts One Year into the Global Pandemic


Almost one year later and the fight to combat COVID-19 continues. Throughout the global pandemic, the City of Vaughan has been guided by three core values – readiness, resiliency and resourcefulness – which shape our ongoing efforts. In addition to a disciplined and evidence-based approach, the City also works closely with York Region and the Government of Ontario to monitor and adapt to ever-changing conditions. Despite the pandemic, city-building has not slowed down and departments across the organization have reinvigorated or introduced virtual service offerings.

Finances

COVID-19 has resulted in many unintended challenges for organizations, businesses and citizens and the financial burden continues to be felt. In response, the City implemented many measures in 2020 to support citizens and businesses designed to relieve financial stresses. These include:

  • Issuing refunds without penalty for all cancelled camps, programs and permits in response to continued City facility and amenity closures.
  • Introducing additional safety measures and protocols in all aspects of the City’s operations and service delivery.
  • Providing financial assistance through deferral of property taxes by waiving the late payment penalty on the interim billing until July 1, 2020 (originally due March 26, April 27 and May 27).
  • Deferring the renewals of business licences for existing businesses by up to 90 days.
  • Deferring monthly rent payments for not-for-profit tenants within City-owned facilities for three months (April to June 2020).
  • Suspending collection of the Municipal Accommodation Tax until Sept. 1, 2020.
  • Deferring the annual stormwater charge for 60 days.
  • Cancelling the 2020 water and wastewater rate increases planned for 2020.
  • Implementing workforce re-balancing measures, including temporary layoffs for staff who are unable to work from home due to the nature of their work, re-deployments, deferral of start dates for most of Vaughan’s part-time, seasonal and student workforce, and organizational re-alignments. 
  • The City also continues to operate tax relief programs for citizens, including the Elderly Home-Owners Tax Assistance (PDF) program for 2021.

Services

Here are highlights on City services and programs by department. 

Administrative Services and City Solicitor:

  • By the end of April 2021, there will have been over 112 electronic-participation Council and Committee meetings and over 30 electronic meetings for Committee of Adjustment, Task Forces, Sub Committees and Advisory Committees will have occurred. The Procedure By-law has been amended to make electronic meetings a permanent option.
  • Live public participation in the form of digital speaking opportunities has been developed via teleconference, telephone or written communication. Enhancing the virtual citizen experience for Committee and Council meetings continues to be explored.
  • Curbside marriage licences have been issued during the closure of Vaughan City Hall – over 194 to date.  

City Manager’s Office:

  • The Economic and Cultural Development (ECD) department is helping businesses adapt through assistance with navigating available provincial and federal programs, direct coaching through business advisory services and training programs, and through the City’s corporate calling programs. To date, ECD has had more than 3,000 significant interactions with businesses through these channels.
  • Digital Boost, a dedicated training program, has helped hundreds of main street businesses adopt digital technology to help access customers and manage their supply chains
  • ECD has delivered premier cultural events like the Vaughan InSpirit Festival and Vaughan Culture Days completely virtually to thousands of participants.
  • vaughanbusiness.ca/COVID continues to be the go-to place for local businesses to get the latest information on support programs to help navigate business owners through the COVID-19 pandemic. The database has been visited more than 27,000 times. 

Community Services:

  • Access Vaughan, the City’s contact centre, continues to respond to public questions, concerns and inquiries. Since the start of the pandemic, the team has received a high volume of inquiries – more than 111,000 – and has achieved a 71% on-the-spot resolution rate.
  • By-law officers continue to patrol and respond to calls on a priority basis. The department has also introduced temporary by-laws to aid local businesses, including the ability to expand or establish outdoor patios and offering a deferral on license renewals. Several services have also transitioned online, such as ticket disputes and payments.
  • Animal Services officers continue to serve through regular patrols and calls as well, with the priority continuing to remain public safety.
  • Recreation Services continues to implement virtual programming, including recreation classes, virtual Concerts in the Park, online fitness classes and virtual holiday-themed activities. Vaughan Fitness Centres have implemented virtual fitness classes for yoga, total body conditioning, barre, HIIT circuit training, and Zumba. Additionally, a new and easy-to-use online registration system was developed for City of Vaughan recreation program users.
  • Vaughan Fire and Rescue Service (VFRS) has distributed more than 1,500 COVID-19 safety kits to vulnerable community members. Alerts from several utility and environmental stakeholders continue to be monitored, a critical infrastructure review is underway, and training for more than 200 members on the emergency management team is also planned to occur in the months ahead. VFRS continues to monitor and procure personal protective equipment.  
  • Vaughan continued to deliver virtual events and festive celebrations throughout the year including Vaughan Accessibility Champion Awards, Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Menorah Lighting Ceremony, Chinese New Year, and International Women’s Day.

Corporate Services:

  • The main focus of Vaughan’s Human Resource team is on key responses related to communications, labour relations, safety, alternative work arrangements, recruitment and workforce adjustments.
  • IT Services continues to monitor the corporation’s infrastructure bandwidth and works to increase thresholds to support the more than 1,300 employees working remotely.
  • Online permit options continue to be added to the City’s permitting portal. Last year, the City issued more than $1 billion in building permits. Since 2010, more than $13 billion in building permits have been issued.
  • Financial services, planning and development teams continue to lobby other levels of government for financial support. Various resident and business financial relief supports continue to be implemented.  
  • There will be a continued focus on managing the timing of non-essential capital project spending through the balance of 2020 and into 2021. The 2021 Budget cycle is well underway and being approached with a mindset geared towards conservatism, flexibility and sustainability. All initiatives are being prioritized prudently with a focus on legislated deliverables, business continuity and service-level stabilization. 

Infrastructure Development:

  • This year, the City’s Infrastructure Development portfolio has managed and advanced more than 150 active capital projects in various phases throughout the city. 
  • The design phase is underway for improvements at West Crossroads Park and Ramsey Armitage Park. Construction of new basketball courts at Napa Valley Park are complete. Construction will begin in the spring at the new Cannes Park. Installation of new playground equipment and basketball amenities are complete at Wade Gate Park.  Ongoing visioning and planning for the full development of the 900-acre North Maple Regional Park continues. Progress continues with the 100-kilometre Vaughan Super Trail initiative. We are moving ahead with the Vaughan Transportation Plan and the Integrated Urban Water Plan. We are working with other governments to improve the transportation network and the expansion of Highway 427, the Rutherford GO Station and the Yonge North Subway extension.
  • Increased cleaning and disinfecting processes have been implemented to ensure the continued health and safety of all workers at City facilities.
  • City-building in Vaughan continues – including significant investments in the emerging downtown core. The City has updated its 360-degree virtual tour to capture the new developments.
  • While several City facilities remain closed to the public, renovations, upgrades, renewals and repairs are being coordinated and executed during this time of reduced occupancy. This will result in fewer disruptions for citizens when the facilities fully reopen.   

Planning and Growth Management:

  • We are investing more than $121 million in capital projects that will shape the future of city-building. These include the new Carrville Community Centre, District Park and Library, and renovations to the Garnet A. Williams Community Centre and to the Maple Community Centre’s office space and library.
  • There are several projects underway that will guide development for intensification areas, including the Vaughan Mills Centre and the Yonge Steeles Corridor, focusing on safety, active transportation and sustainability.
  • Residents continue to be engaged in land use studies to guide the development of transit-supportive communities.
  • Further upgrades to electronic applications and submissions, virtual public engagement strategies and online consultations continue to be explored and implemented.
  • A new digital permitting portal was launched, enabling citizens and building industry professionals to apply, track and pay for permits online. It is available at vaughan.ca/PermitPortal.  

Public Works:

  • Waste collection services have expanded, including adding services, introducing virtual resources and more. In total, 2,900 new waste and recycling bins have been delivered to residents’ homes as part of the temporary bin exchange program. Environmental Services is considering implementing the bin exchange program permanently in response to its overwhelming success.
  • A QR Code pilot program was also implemented to increase responsiveness to litter/dumping concerns in five parks throughout Vaughan.
  • Service Vaughan – is a digital platform that enables individuals to easily submit a service request, report on non-emergency City services and track their submission 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 
  • Park amenities have reopened under strict provincial and regional health and safety measures.
  • Additional street-sweeper rotations removed more than 10,520 tons of dust, dirt and debris from City streets.
  • A horticulture sponsorship program called Grow With Vaughan has also launched. It aims to provide support to the small business community through cost-effective, highly visible partnership opportunities. Grow with Vaughan incorporates environmental stewardship into the City’s social and economic initiatives, while encouraging economic prosperity, investment and social capital through sponsorship opportunities for the business community. 
  •  Public Works achieved more than $1.8 million in cost savings over the past 12 months.

Vaughan Public Libraries (VPL):

  • Three resource libraries, Bathurst Clark Resource Library, Civic Centre Resource Library and Pierre Berton Resource Library, have reopened during non-lockdown measures under strict health and safety protocols.
  • While all other library facilities have remained closed, 66,485 items were borrowed through the curbside pickup program. VPL was the first in Ontario to launch a program of this nature, and late fees and fines have been eliminated.
  • A wide range of virtual programming, resources, engagement and contests continue to enhance services.  
  •  VPL also has Brainfuse HelpNow database to provide online tutoring, homework and curriculum help for students from kindergarten to Grade 12 in French and English.
  • VPL will continue to innovate to create an even more robust library system. At the same time, the digital shift and automation required by VPL’s COVID-19 response has identified areas where long-lasting improvements can be made. 

Economy

Training and hands-on support to local businesses to help them pivot operations:

Educating businesses on the challenges and opportunities presented by COVID-19:

  • Launched the vaughanbusiness.ca website that includes a dedicated COVID-19 resource page.
  • Launched segment focused e-newsletters with targeted relevant information for small businesses; arts and culture; tourism and hospitality; and business development.
  • Partnered with local institutions like Vaughan Public Libraries, the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce and Niagara University to deliver webinars and virtual town halls.
  • Supported the #ShopVaughanLocal campaign.
  • Developed the Interim Tourism Meetings and Events Strategy to secure future opportunities in consultation with industry partners.  
  • Hosted the 2021 Vaughan Business Expo presented by Allstate Canada.

Easing, wherever possible, extraordinary regulatory burdens on business:

  • Launched the Vaughan Business Action Plan.
  • Supported the extension of the deadline for payment of interim and final instalments of property taxes.
  • Supported the extension of the business license grace period. 
  • To support the local economy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Vaughan Council voted on Oct. 21, 2020 to extend the temporary permit deadline to create or expand a dining patio until the end of the declared state of emergency in Vaughan 

Maintaining community arts and cultural connections: