Moncton eyes using $8M surplus to fund affordable housing group

·3 min read
Moncton is looking at how to spend an $8-million surplus tied largely to federal COVID-19 relief spending.  (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
Moncton is looking at how to spend an $8-million surplus tied largely to federal COVID-19 relief spending. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

Moncton council is considering spending most of an $8-million surplus to fund affordable housing group Rising Tide and to prepare for the possible resumption of various community events as vaccination takes place faster than previously expected.

The pandemic led Moncton staff to forecast a deficit in 2020 on the assumption it wouldn't see provincial or federal support. It cut spending on things like bus transit, hired fewer summer students and deferred some infrastructure spending.

However, when the year ended it recorded a surplus of $1,042,333. The federal Safe Restart program spending also saw the city receive just over $3.1 million for 2020. It received a further $3,902,562 in 2021 from the federal government's COVID-19 spending.

Jacques Doucet, the city's chief financial officer, told council they now have to decide how to spend a surplus of $8,010,273.

City staff recommended using $6 million to fund Rising Tide, which plans to buy properties to open affordable housing units, as well as pay for unbudgeted things like the resumption of events and to pay for infrastructure projects.

Jacques Doucet, Moncton's chief financial officer, speaks at a city council committee meeting on Monday about how to potentially spend the surplus.
Jacques Doucet, Moncton's chief financial officer, speaks at a city council committee meeting on Monday about how to potentially spend the surplus. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Last year, city councillors voted to financially back Rising Tide with $6 million over three years. Council voted to pay for the first year's $2 million using money held in municipal reserve accounts. The city has more than $70 million held in reserve for future spending.

"If we can have events this summer, we want to put events on," Doucet said Monday.

"If we need to hire more students to make sure that our parks and our trails look good, we will do so."

Councillors voted to accept the recommendation during the committee meeting, though it must be approved through another vote at a future city council meeting.

Coun. Brian Hicks was the only councillor to vote against the staff recommendation. He called it amazing that staff appeared to not consider using the funds to reduce the municipal tax rate for one year.

"So very easily we could be putting millions or tens of millions of dollars in a one-year tax break, that would help businesses, that would help individual taxpayers in a time when they really need it," Hicks said.

"I find it astonishing that staff would not even recommend that."

Doucet said on average, reducing the tax rate would likely only save residential taxpayers $30 to $35 per year.

He said if council wanted to consider it, it could be debated when council votes on what to do with the surplus.

Coun. Charles Léger suggested the city analyze using some of the surplus to restore Codiac Transpo bus service to its pre-pandemic levels.

"That is something I'd like to see restored at 100 per cent," Léger said.

"If we want to be leaders and show that public transportation is here for the long-term, we should do that," he said.

Marc Landry, the city manager, said that's something staff will look at before the topic goes to a future city council meeting.