Cape Breton Regional Municipality had prepared to end the last fiscal year with a deficit, but its budget is now back in the black.
In May, the municipality was looking at about a $230,000 shortall on last year's operations, which ended March 31.
"That forecast was based on a lot of assumptions and uncertainty," said CBRM chief financial officer Jennifer Campbell. "We were still waiting for invoices to arrive from year end. We were still waiting to reconcile some of our accounts that are only done at year end."
Some year-end accounting was also slowed by the pandemic, but all of the revenues and expenses are now in, she said.
"We do have a small surplus," Campbell said. "It's looking to be in or around $10,000, which is only a fraction of a percentage of our total budget, which I'm certainly happy with, given the events that transpired during the year."
Campbell said COVID-19 took a bite out of the roughly $150-million budget, driving up expenses and cutting into revenues.
It also meant municipal staff were working from home, which slowed down the accounting process, and suppliers and businesses that had to shut down were slower getting payments or invoices in to CBRM, she said.
The biggest surprise was getting about $120,000 from the province to cover cleanup costs after Hurricane Dorian struck last September, said Campbell.
In Cape Breton, that meant clearing trees and debris from roads and sidewalks.
"For the most part, CBRM sustained primarily a wind event from that system, as opposed to rain, so we weren't dealing with a lot of flooding or washouts," Campbell said.
The municipality's total costs from the storm amounted to about $160,000, but the province only deemed about $120,000 as eligible costs for disaster financial assistance.
CBRM could have put in an insurance claim for the rest, but the deductible is $50,000 so it was not worth it, said Campbell.
Staff did not include any cost recovery in the year-end forecast because they weren't sure the municipality would qualify and knew the costs would be significantly lower than they were for Hurricane Matthew, which cost CBRM nearly $4 million.
Expenses up pre-pandemic
In 2016, the remnants of that storm slammed into Cape Breton and sparked a record rainfall, with more than 225 millimetres of precipitation falling on Thanksgiving Day.
Even before the pandemic, though, expenses were up for the year, Campbell said.
"It was a relentless winter with back-to-back snowstorms quite frequently, often happening on weekends," she said.
"Honestly, I was very relieved and shocked to see that our bottom line was in the black."
Financial audit nearly done
With an anticipated deficit in the spring, council had two choices, Campbell said.
They could have budgeted to cover the shortfall this year or used reserve funds to cover it. Council chose to use reserve funds, so deficit or surplus, there's no impact on this year's budget, she said.
CBRM's financial statements for last year are still being audited, but that process is nearing completion, Campbell said.
"I don't expect any further adjustments to our operating results," she said.
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