The SASCU Recreation Centre. (File photo)

COVID-19: Salmon Arm council makes tough decisions to address economic stress

Among the city’s measures are tax breaks, layoffs and a project delay

Tax breaks, layoffs and changes to plans for the Ross Street Underpass are some of the measures the City of Salmon Arm will be taking during the pandemic.

Following four hours of in-camera discussions with city staff Monday morning, April 6, council announced four points in its COVID-19 Economic Response/Recovery Plan.

Being instituted at this time are:

1) no tax increase in 2020 for all classes of property.

2) an extension of the 2020 property tax deadline for all classes to July 30, 2020, as well as other measures regarding the prepayment plan and the ongoing tax deferment plans.

3) a phased workforce reduction and hiring freeze.

4) delay of the Ross Street Underpass tender process to July 15, 2020 with fall 2020 construction.

Read more: City of Salmon Arm takes the big leap in response to COVID-19

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Mayor Alan Harrison said the workplace reduction and hiring freeze was the most difficult for council.

He said most of the employees being laid off work at the Shaw Centre and the recreation centre.

“We have kept our workforce on here at the city for as long as we could. We were hopeful maybe at the start of this we might be looking at a short timeline. But the timeline now is quite uncertain…,” Harrison said. “Of course now we have had those facilities shut for almost three weeks. We appreciate the employees there who have been working inside and trying to better those facilities. But it’s much like a restaurant. There are no customers, the facilities are closed and it doesn’t look like that’s going to end soon. When the business isn’t there, as businesses know, neither is the revenue.”

He said the hiring freeze phase affects summer students and relief workers.

“There’s a savings of about $230,000 just in that piece. In order to go with a zero per cent tax increase for 2020 we have to recover about $530,000 and so there’s a number of means we’ve done that. Primarily at this stage it’s through workforce reduction.”

As for having no tax increase in 2020, Harrison said council’s intention was, because everyone is in this together, to apply it to all classes so everyone will benefit somewhat.

Similarly, he said the extension to the tax deadline to July 30 is to provide “a little bit of breathing room for everyone.”

Read more: Ross Street underpass predicted to be September-to-September project

Read more: Next for Salmon Arm underpass – build new tracks to avoid construction area

Regarding the delay of the Ross Street Underpass, Harrison hopes the new timing will provide a needed boost to the economy in the fall.

“There is a financial piece associated with that in that the interest from the monies borrowed, we can reinvest those and we plan on doing that. But we really wanted to include it to get a clear message out to the residents of Salmon Arm. We would love to be constructing that underpass right now. Unfortunately there’s been engineering hold-ups, primarily with CP and that’s slowed the process.

“We will build it. By delaying the tendering to July 15 and construction in September 2020, which we also believe is when the highway project will continue, we hope to have an acceleration of our economy and that those two big projects will help.”

Harrison and other councillors thanked city staff for all their work and residents who have provided input.

He said the city’s primary aim with its recent decisions has been the safety and health of its residents as well as city staff. Close behind that comes economic stress, he said.

“I think we have made our attempts to address it today.”

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The proposed Ross Street Underpass. (City of Salmon Arm illustration)

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