Premier Doug Ford announced on August 12, 2020 that Ontario will be allocating $1.6 billion in phase 1 emergency funding under the Safe Restart Agreement with the federal government. The goal is to help municipalities offset operational costs and assist municipal transit systems.
Funding will be allocated to all 444 municipalities on a per household basis and shared on a 50/50 basis by upper and lower tier municipalities.The funds will be released in the fall.
Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos told the Kingsville Times that this funding will be very welcome. “Kingsville’s share of phase 1 funding will be $542,800,“ he said.
There will be additional funding in Phase 2 for eligible municipalities. They must supply the Province with information on their estimated COVID-19 financial needs.
“Phase 2 funding will be application-based. We will be required to report on how this money is spent, and at this time, the municipality does not have details on eligible vs. ineligible expenses yet, however, any funds not required for this purpose in 2020 can be put into reserves to support potential COVID-19 costs and pressures,” said Santos.
“As for our local Business Relaunch Fund, this initiative recognizes the current day challenges for our business community. Similar to the experiences at town hall and our municipal facilities, I recognize that keeping employees and customers safe will result in increased operating costs to each business.”
Municipal Governments During a Pandemic
Municipal governments can make a significant difference for their people and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. A couple of ways they can do this are by providing financial relief and supporting essential services.
Every municipal government deals with specific restrictions that are more limiting than federal and provincial government constraints. For instance, a municipal government can’t operate under a deficit. Budgets must be balanced, without borrowing.
More than 70 percent of a municipality’s revenue comes from property taxes and user levies according to an article in Policy Options, a magazine published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
During the pandemic, there’s also been a decrease in funds received because of the lockdown and gradual reopening of communities. As the community acquires less revenue, so does the town.
Fees of various kinds are waived. Permits and development charges are not coming in to the coffers. Recreational and other facilities are closed, so they are not generating money through fees.
And while the townspeople are being burdened with their own losses due to COVID-19, some of them will not be paying their taxes, which depletes municipal funds yet again.
But while finding ways to make ends meet and work with the townspeople, the municipal government must continue to take care of its responsibilities as laid out by the province.
This means a wide array of essential services still have to be provided. Police and fire departments, garbage pickup, water and wastewater treatment, and recreational services are just a few of these essential services. So the squeeze is on, and in ways that none of us have encountered before.
Kingsville’s Municipal Government During COVID-19
Assistance from the province will relieve some pressure on our town and its municipal government.
“This fund is meant to help respond to these pressures and help support the reopening costs associated with the new safety guidelines,” said Santos. “Each qualifying business and non-profit can access up to $750 to offset any fixtures, equipment, cleaning supplies and other costs that can be associated to comply with COVID-19 health and safety requirements and safety measures.”
Every municipal government will be dealing with a unique situation, affected by such factors as its size, and its types of businesses. But each municipal government will operate within the same set of regulations, requirements and restrictions.
Kingsville has been dealing with COVID-19 and its extraordinary circumstances for five months. The Kingsville Times talked with Ryan McLeod, CPA, CA and Director of Financial Services recently about how that’s going.
McLeod said that the main way the town has been offering financial support is through waiving interest and penalties on water and tax accounts.
This frees up some money for the residents and businesses who are having to juggle their bills, groceries, housing costs and utilities. Waiving interest fees aids the people of the town, without spending the reduced amount of the municipality’s tax dollars.
The Town has also had to deal with financial repercussions from COVID-19. Layoffs have been necessary. Departments are of necessity understaffed.
“Administration is currently looking into additional financial relief programs, however, the financial resources of the Town are limited, compared to the Provincial or Federal Government, and any program the municipality could provide is unlikely to provide meaningful, long-term financial relief to struggling businesses or residents,” said McLeod.
Kingsville Opens Streets to Aid Recovery
One of the ventures the Town Council has supported is the BIA initiative called Open Streets, with the goal of assisting in the recovery for downtown businesses.
“Some restaurants outside of the downtown core have applied for, and been approved, expanded patios on their private property, but this was not an option for certain downtown establishments,” McLeod said.
Patio fees had to be considered. There are three parts to the patio fees: Application, Parking spot use, and Material and labour for setup. Council waived the first two parts of the fees for this year. Owners still must pay for the third, to prevent additional cost to tax payers.
“The Town Council has waived fees for patio applications and parking space rentals for any restaurant that wanted to open a patio,” McLeod said. “While those fees were waived, costs for setting up patios and other capital costs like planters would still be paid for by the businesses.”
It has been challenging for businesses to learn new ways at almost every turn. Moving from lockdown, through Stage 1, then Stage 2, and now taking on Stage 3 has been dizzying for owners and staff alike.
Customers must adopt new and unfamiliar behaviour when out. Not every business is benefiting from Open Streets. Some feel that it’s been a detriment to their livelihood. Even residents in their homes feel the effects of the open concept on the weekends.
Open Streets will continue to operate on Fridays 5-9 p.m. and Saturdays 4-9 p.m. through Labour Day Weekend.
“The Town understands that not every business or resident benefits from the street closure, and we have made efforts to address many of the concerns brought to our attention. If there is more we can do, we always welcome thoughtful, productive feedback,” said McLeod.
Do you have an opinion you want to share with Town Council? A form has been created to collect feedback on Open Streets.
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Photo by Chris Anson