The Grey Highlands will discuss ways to pay for increased cleaning costs of its community spaces in the upcoming 2022 budget deliberations.
The municipality estimates that it will need to allocate $43.5k to cleaning municipal spaces that have been provided free of charge to various community groups through its community grant program applications.
While the municipality has previously provided space free of charge to community groups through this program, cleaning costs are elevated due to stringent COVID-19 related disinfection requirements.
“Costs are significantly more now because of COVID cleaning protocols,” said director of economic and community development Michele Harris to council Nov. 16.
Grey Highlands staff pointed out that cleaning used to be done by municipal staff, but COVID-19 measures have required the town to rely on a third-party contractor, which costs roughly $165 per cleaning.
“In the past, we used to wipe down the tables and fold them up and put them away if they were used for a meeting. Now it means cleaning every leg, everything, a complete, thorough cleaning and we just don't have the staff to do that,” said Harris during October’s Financial Assistance Program committee meeting.
Council asked whether the costs might be covered through COVID-19 recovery funds, but staff said that they are currently unsure how much of the funds will be left by the end of the year.
“There is money in reserve,” said accounting manager Charity Post. “It's just until the transfers are all done, until the calculations are all made, ... I can't speak to how much will be remaining.”
“My understanding from the finance department and our colleagues is that we suspect most of [the COVID-19 funds] will be allocated for other COVID related protocols, and we're not sure … whether there is any more forthcoming at this point,” Harris said.
Council discussed whether or not the cost of cleaning should be charged to the grant program budget.
After accounting for cash donations to community groups, the remaining community grant budget would cover virtually all of the cleaning costs, but members of council thought that the cleaning costs should not be charged against the program’s budget.
“This appears to be clearly a COVID related expense, and I don't think it's fair that we allocate it to the community grant program budget,” said councillor Tom Allwood.
Deputy Mayor Aakaash Desai suggested the cleaning fees could be absorbed by a municipal department.
“Regardless of what account it's charged to, it's still the taxpayer that's paying for the cleaning,” he said. “The question that I have is, is it fair to community groups that are trying to provide a value-added benefit to the community, to see the grants budget depleted in order to have the facilities cleaned? Shouldn't we instead, simply be looking at having that come from a department budget?”
Councillor Paul Allen argued that while community groups add benefit, the costs of cleaning freely rented municipal space might be too much.
“Many people are volunteering in our community, and it’s great, but it's … starting to get a little bit out of hand financially, especially with this COVID cleaning,” he said. “It's adding quite an expense to providing that free space.”
Director Harris suggested that there are a number of ways the municipality could handle the cleaning fees.
“We can choose for the municipality to take that cost on, or we could look at our fees and charges to pass that on to the paid renter group,” Harris said. “I think those are decisions that are going to have to be discussed when we come to the budget.”
Council moved to add the cleaning costs as an item in the 2022 budget deliberations.
Four meetings are scheduled for budget deliberations on Nov. 22, 24, 29, and 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Council will meet again on Dec. 2 and Dec. 6 to ratify the budget.
All budget deliberations will be held virtually. Click here for the council meeting schedule and virtual links.
Greg McGrath-Goudie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca