North Grenville CAO, Gary Dyke, presented a detailed report to council at their meeting last week, outlining the impact of COVID-19 on the Municipality.
He reported that the Municipality was able to mobilize quite quickly to address the pandemic. The provincial emergency orders were declared on March 25, and by April 3 staff were before council with recommendations on cost mitigation and the projected impacts on the organization. The CAO said that, at the time, they didn’t know whether they would receive any support funding from upper tiers of government, and they felt it was important to have their own cost containment strategy to keep the pandemic from affecting both the current and future budget.
Staff was able to control costs by modifying their operating budget and redirecting capital investment funds. As a result, council authorized the creation of the COVID-19 Cost Containment Plan and Reserve Fund, which saw $400,000 from the operating budget and $966,730 from the capital investment fund reallocated to address costs and revenue loss due to COVID-19. “[This] created a fund of around $1.4 million that allowed us to deal with COVID-19 as it comes at us, without having to significantly alter other aspects of our essential services,” CAO Dyke said.
As predicted, the Municipality has suffered some financial loss due to COVID-19. CAO Dyke’s report projects a net revenue loss of $266,960 by the end of the year due to the closure and/or modification of the operation of municipal recreation facilities, like the rinks at the Municipal Centre and the Kemptville pool. There were also some expenses incurred due to the pandemic, which include the small business support program, the creation of a marketing plan, advertising and communications, increased custodial staff, IT improvements, PPE, security and transportation. The cost of all these COVID-19-related expenses added up to $512,553 at the end of August.
With the net losses and expenses to the Municipality, the total unbudgeted impact on the community is around $780,000. CAO Dyke said at the meeting that this number is not insignificant, seeing as each $100,000 increase in the budget relates to a 1 per cent increase in the tax rate. “To come up with that money would have been a significant impact,” he said.
Like all Ontario municipalities, North Grenville received some relief funding from the Provincial Government to help them pay for COVID-19-related costs. Based on a per household allocation, North Grenville received a one-time payment of $434,000 as part of this program. With the money set aside in the Municipality’s own COVID-19 Response Fund, and the funding from the province, the Municipality is more than able to offset both the revenue loss and costs due to the pandemic, without any affect on the tax rate. The CAO says the Reserve Fund can also be used to offset future COVID-19 costs and losses, as they head into 2021. “[We are] probably looking at being able to return a significant portion back into the Capital Fund that we took it from,” he said.
He also mentioned that staff is aware that the $434,000 they received from the province is just the first phase of COVID-19 relief funding, and that they are in the process of preparing the documentation needed to take advantage of the next funding envelope. “I can’t overstate my gratitude to staff and council with respect to the way we handled the situation,” Gary said. “Because of the early hard lifting that was done at the staff level, and with the cooperation and direction we received from council, we’re well positioned to maintain a very positive response to COVID-19, as we go through the balance of 2020 and into 2021, without any significant impacts on our operations and on the community as we provide our service levels going forward.”
All members of council expressed their gratitude for the way the CAO led the Municipality through the beginning stages of the pandemic. “It was a team effort, and that can only happen when the team is led by somebody with your calibre and what you’ve brought to this municipality,” said Councillor Kristin Strackerjan.
Hilary Thomson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Grenville Times