Chief Administrative Officer Ron Taylor says the city has lost millions of dollars that will most likely never be recovered, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taylor was providing his monthly update to council regarding the fiscal impacts that COVID-19 and the state of emergency have had on the daily operations and long-term prospects of Kawartha Lakes.
He shared a concerning financial picture that will be further fleshed out at the next committee of the whole meeting June 9. The CAO says city financial statements are being reviewed on a weekly basis because of the dramatic decrease in revenue and a decline in user fees.
Taylor says the current revenue loss due to COVID-19 stands at $3.2 million, with half of that loss coming from the community services branch of municipal government.
This includes things like libraries, parks and recreation, and rentals of city-owned facilities like the armoury. For instance, even one soccer association alone might pay tens of thousands in user fees for fields over the course of a year.
“I do not expect that money to ever be recovered,” Taylor says.
Taylor told council that many non-essential projects have been cancelled and the city is looking for creative ways to reduce operating and capital spending.
The CAO then listed some of the services the city has decided to cancel or scale back on. This includes cancelling all city summer camps, keeping most city facilities closed, and not taking bookings for any of the city-owned parks and sporting fields for any kind of large gatherings.
Taylor stresses that the city wants to deliver services, “in a fiscally prudent way working with the ministry of labour and CUPE to ensure best practices.”
The CAO made it clear that with this funding shortfall, “the city will have to recalibrate what we can and cannot do.”
Taylor hints that a couple of options exist in-house to replace this missing revenue and they include using the $3 million surplus the city ran in 2019. A second option is tied to the 2020 winter control budget, since those costs are “tracking well,” with the possibility there could be leftover funds that could be rolled over and put down against this year’s shortfall.
Taylor says the city was also factoring in a higher delinquency rate on property taxes considering the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. The CAO stresses “the city needs money to fund the business (of the city).”
While the CAO hopes the city’s cash flow will remain steady until the end of 2020, he did suggest that it is critical for all municipalities in Ontario to have “reliable and predictable funding numbers” for shared cost projects with the province heading at least into 2021.
Taylor postulates that these shared cost programs “need to be kept top of mind” because of their importance to the communities they serve. These programs include transit, public health, paramedics, social housing and social services.
He says, “We need to know what our partners are going to pay for these projects.”
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the East Central Warden’s Caucus chaired by Mayor Andy Letham are lobbying the province hard to assist with municipal recovery and keep up their share of funding shared cost programs.
Taylor told council that at the June 9 meeting there will be recommendations made for financial strategies for the rest of 2020.
Councillor Ron Ashmore wanted to know with the arrival of warm weather could more access be given to playground equipment at city parks. Taylor is sympathetic and said he “knows the need for access to public spaces but provincial state of emergency orders must be followed and as of right now access to that kind of play equipment is prohibited and closed.”
While the residents of Ward 6 are pleased to have the landfill site open, notes Ashmore, he also wonders about the hour long wait times and lineups out onto Hwy 36. He asked if the city has any plans to alleviate the situation.
Taylor hopes the situation at the Lindsay landfill will be at least be partially alleviated by the re-opening of other landfills soon. The CAO also shares that with the health protocols and limited staffing the city currently has available for the Lindsay landfill, long lineups may be around for a while.
Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan wanted to know if Beach Park is open in Bobcaygeon for swimming. Taylor said that playground equipment and bathrooms will remain closed, but since the beach is deemed to be passive land space there is no reason it shouldn’t be open.