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LETTER: Municipal services are critical in these unprecedented times

– By Ryan T. Colvin, PE

These are most certainly unprecedented times. As engineers, architects and planners who provide support for critical municipal services, such as water and wastewater systems, MRB Group has always been a team of designers and planners. We’re not typically daunted by logistical challenges. But thanks to the novel coronavirus, most every business has been put to the worst kind of test – one that’s existential. Companies are facing circumstances no business plan could – or should – have anticipated.

Because we provide essential services and support critical municipal functions, we’re still supporting clients. Thanks to the dedication of all of our team members, we’ve instituted staggered hours, home office support and technical enhancements, remote meeting and communication technology, and social distancing measures to allow us to continue to provide essential services to our clients. Our team has risen to this challenge and shown us just how remarkable they are.

We’re seeing many amazing people doing all they can to help during the novel coronavirus crisis.

As proud as we are of our outstanding team members, we are in awe of the many community leaders who have stepped forward to address residents’ needs and concerns with fortitude and wisdom. Many are indeed superheroes who, despite worries about their loved ones, or personal career tumult (even unemployment!), or a myriad of other understandable fears and uncertainties, have put their communities before themselves.

The functions of local governments are relied upon daily without much thought by those who receive a tremendous number of critical services. Water flows, toilets flush, trash is removed, and above all, emergency services continue to be provided, including planning and preparation for what is likely to come during this current challenge. Municipal services must continue through crisis, uninterrupted. At this juncture, every available state and national resource is focused on the public health emergency – and that means local leadership must quietly persevere.

That’s par for the course, and nothing new for local government officials and staff. They are accustomed to carrying a tremendous responsibility, for which there is little thanks. People only notice when essential services ARE interrupted. Otherwise, citizens don’t usually acknowledge, let alone praise, “business as usual.”

In fact, that’s a catchphrase that has become loathed and scorned. The only phrase more hated is “status quo.” As citizens of the world, we all want better circumstances for our children and that’s understandable, if not admirable. We want social justice and improved living conditions, all motivators for positive change. We always are looking forward, to the horizon. News stories tell of champions and noble efforts to push the envelope and change things for the good.

What’s often missing from a forward-focus is present-mindedness and gratitude.

We’d like to share some gratitude to those who are guiding, leading, and supporting communities through this time. Thank you, Mayors and Supervisors, for keeping the home fires burning, for prioritizing and planning and making financial commitments to meeting community needs. Thank you City Managers, Clerks, and staffs, for making sure finances are tracked, bills are paid, and payroll is completed. Thank you to Department Heads for organizing your teams and keeping them working. Thank you to direct-service personnel for coming to work in recent weeks, despite the worries of children at home, shortages of supplies, and the ever-present threat of exposure. You are all the reason we have water to drink, working sewer services, and that critical community services continue, so residents throughout the community can shelter at home.

We are grateful for all that you do, and this is a circumstance where we are very appreciative of “business as usual.”

I invite residents to turn to social media, local newspapers and even sending a direct message to those in positions of leadership and public service in your community.  Let them know their good work is appreciated, and that we all recognize their quiet dedication and devotion.

MRB Group will continue to provide assistance and support to local governments and their unsung heroes. Perhaps once this challenging time is behind us, residents will have a renewed sense of appreciation for their fellow community members who serve as leaders in the municipal ranks. These are the individuals whose efforts make a community strong. They work to connect citizens and foster a sense of neighborhood. Effective local government leadership builds cooperation and caring – that spreads and further bonds community members. Community spirit is the kind of contagion we actually need right now – and the power that will likely get America through the coronavirus crisis.

Thank you to our local governments and their teams during this unprecedented time in our history.

Ryan T. Colvin, PE, is the President and CEO of MRB Group, a municipal services, engineering and architecture firm that works with approximately 150 communities across the State of New York.