Kawartha Lakes City Council unanimously approved an economic recovery task force that will support local business, building trades, tourism and agriculture.
To be chaired by Mayor Andy Letham, it is one of two special task forces to be in place by May 26 to help buffer the harsh economic realities facing local businesses as they prepare, eventually, to reopen after a long closure due to COVID-19.
Ron Taylor, chief administrative officer of Kawartha Lakes, and Letham both believe that federal, provincial and municipal infrastructure projects will assist the national recovery from the economic paralysis caused by the pandemic. Council met electronically, via the Zoom platform.
Taylor says the city is looking for “shovel ready projects” to begin as soon as it is safe for the workers involved to be engaged in that work.
The second working group, called the community pandemic recovery task force, also received unanimous council approval for its establishment. The CAO suggested the purpose of this task force will be to assist vulnerable residents and non-for profits. The task force will also identify community supports to assist these groups moving forward.
Taylor shared with council the financial realities currently facing the city and some preliminary ideas that are being contemplated as the province and the municipality consider re-opening.
The CAO reminded those present that only the day before the provincial government had introduced a framework for re-opening Ontario.
Taylor endorsed the provincial framework as a prudent plan.
Any plan “needs to be slow and steady,” he says.
“It must be safe. Testing must be in place to assist those making decisions. The provincial idea of staged re-openings over two to four week time periods and then either a reduction or expansion of services based on what happens with COVID makes sense.”
The CAO told council that additional money from either the provincial or federal government for municipalities is unknown at this point.
Taylor did mention that lobbying by municipal organizations has been going on over the last few weeks but no results have been announced.
He admitted to council that the reality is there has been a decrease in revenues and a steep decline in user fees.
“Service delivery has changed considerably. Physical distancing, wearing (personal protective equipment) and limited public access to some city-owned facilities are the new normal. It may be a long time before these circumstances change.”
While one half of the budget is tax supported, Taylor notes much of the other half of the budget comes from user fees, development fees, fines and late penalties.
“The city will defer interim and final 2020 tax payment due dates by 60 days. The city will also waive penalties and late charges associated with late utility payments.”
Taylor says that “nothing will be done that will put people at risk.”
“All decisions will be made with community partners.”
When the floor opened to discussion, Councillor Emmett Yeo asked Taylor to be careful not to cut too much so as to remove this stimulus from the economy.
The CAO responded, “As long as the city can afford it and they create jobs projects will move forward.”
Letham added his support to his CAO’s statement by noting both the province and federal government see infrastructure as the way forward.
“Everyone is looking at what projects can be put in place quickly to put people back to work.”