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County residents answered the call in 2020: Mayor’s new year video message

Story and file photos by Sharon Harrison
“I am proud to say the people of Prince Edward County answered the call to keep others, and each other, safe,” declared Prince Edward County mayor, Steve Ferguson, in a six-minute New Year video address.

The pre-recorded message to the residents of Prince Edward County was a safe alternative to the mayor’s New Year’s Levee, which couldn’t take place this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Little has gone according to plan in 2020,” said Ferguson in his address. “When we gathered for the levee last January, we had no idea of the looming threat just beyond the horizon. Two months later, we faced a world turned upside down by this insidious new virus.”

Held every year in early January, the annual levee, open to all, usually attracts a good crowd and is an opportunity for the public to meet and greet local dignitaries, municipal staff and councillors, as well as elected officials from neighbouring municipalities and representatives from community organizations.

Council and staff greet the public attending the levee at Macaulay Museum in January 2020.

Hosted in recent years at the historic Macaulay Church in Picton, the relaxed event welcomes in a new year and provides an update on the past year’s accomplishments within the municipality, as well giving a forward projection of goals and objectives for the upcoming year.

For the health and safety of all, in what would have been Mayor Ferguson’s third New Year’s Levee, he opted to deliver his message via a video broadcast which is available for viewing through the County’s website.

Ferguson thanked everyone for doing their part to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“We stayed six-feet apart, we wore masks and we limited our travel,” he said. “Changing our way of life wasn’t easy, and I recognize 2020 has taken a toll on many of you physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually.”

While the theme of last year’s speech centred on the high water levels experienced locally, a significant issue for some community members in 2019, reflections on 2020 were dominated by COVID-19, where Ferguson spoke to a caring community amid pandemic priorities and relief efforts.

Looking forward, key priorities on the agenda for 2021 include a tourism management plan, key infrastructure projects, a new Official Plan, affordable housing, as well as improved broadband internet access.

“2021 promises to be another challenging, yet promising, year for Prince Edward County,” declared Ferguson.

“In 2020, we undertook the largest road rehabilitation program we’ve ever done, with more coming as we move forward in our asset management plan in the New Year.”

Ferguson said the not-for-profit housing corporation and its new executive director, Charles Dowdall, are “working hard to locate and develop properties to enable young families to live and work in our community.”

On the healthcare front, Ferguson noted development updates in 2020 for both the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital and the long-term care home, H.J. McFarland Memorial.

He noted the municipality will continue to support the redevelopment of the hospital, noting how in October 2020, the province authorized the move to stage three of the redevelopment process.

“The County is also excited to start the multi-year redevelopment of our long-term care home,” he said. “We are committed to transforming H.J. McFarland Memorial into a modern facility where we can care for more seniors in our community.”

Ferguson also noted how the municipality will improve broadband access, stating it is, “vital in this new world where more and more people are working and learning from home.”

He said the municipality had worked hard to respond to the pandemic.

“We strived to ensure the health, safety and the well-being of the community and we continued to deliver services, often in new and innovative ways.”

The municipality also managed to stay fiscally strong.

“We focused on the core services residents and businesses need most from us and that will remain a focus in 2021.”

Acknowledgement was made to frontline workers in the community.

“Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals worked tirelessly under stressful circumstances in our hospitals and in our long-term care homes.”

He also mentioned staff in grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and other stores.

“They kept us stocked-up with essential items, all the while ensuring their stores were safe for all to enjoy; we in turn supported them by shopping locally.”

Ferguson also acknowledged those who stepped-up to help deliver groceries to people who were unable to leave their homes, and to volunteer groups who prepared meals for those in need or gave of themselves in other ways. He also acknowledging local food banks and the COVID-19 relief fund set up by The County Foundation.

“These are just a few of the examples of how this global crisis has brought out the best in us,” he said. “I have also taken solace during these dark times in the continued generosity and caring of the community.”

He said the municipality will support the most vulnerable people in the community, those hit hardest by the pandemic.

“We will do this by supporting food security initiatives and expanding affordable housing, and continuing to support not-for-profit organizations and The County Foundation.”

Fostering a more inclusive community and the continued building of a renewed relationship with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte were noted as priorities by Ferguson.

He said with the arrival of vaccine, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.

“I am hopeful that we will start to move past the COVID-19 pandemic this year, but we still need to be vigilant in the coming months to stop the spread of COVID-19 as the vaccination program rolls out,” stated Ferguson. “If we can do that, I believe Prince Edward County is well positioned to bounce back quickly in 2021 and beyond.”

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