Salmon Arm council and staff have the happy task of deciding how to spend a $3.6 million COVID-19 Safe Restart grant going to local governments from provincial and federal governments. (File photo)

Salmon Arm council and staff have the happy task of deciding how to spend a $3.6 million COVID-19 Safe Restart grant going to local governments from provincial and federal governments. (File photo)

Decisions: Salmon Arm council, staff decide fate of $3.6 million COVID-19 restart grant

Council receives welcome funding from provincial/federal governments

City staff and council have the welcome task of deciding where a $3.6 million grant should be spent.

In response to financial impacts from the pandemic, the province announced in September close to $2 billion in federal/provincial spending, which included $540 million worth of COVID-19 Safe Restart grants for local governments. That amount was divided into three streams, two of which must be applied for and the third, direct grants.

In November, Salmon Arm was allocated a $3,598,000 grant.

On Dec. 14, council members offered a few recommendations for the $3.6 million.

Suggestions from Mayor Alan Harrison included replenishing the emergency reserve fund, looking at support for some organizations that lease from the city, and developing an active transportation project that supports walking, hiking, biking.

Coun. Louise Wallace Richmond’s ideas included using one-third to replenish spending, one-third to fund what the city didn’t have to do before but has to do now; and one-third to support the city’s partners by possibly topping up the endowment fund with the Shuswap Community Foundation. She also suggested creating something to commemorate getting through the pandemic.

Coun. Kevin Flynn said he’d like to see an amount set aside for late 2021, when the city can assess its situation. He suggested a heavy emphasis on reserve funds and flexibility.

Both Couns. Tim Lavery and Chad Eliason said they also like the idea of topping up the community foundation fund, which it distributes for the city.

Coun. Debbie Cannon would also like to see design of the new pool project completed so the city is ready when opportunity arises. Cannon also said she has ideas for a kind of victory hall project.

Read more: Salmon Arm taxpayers face a 2.51 per cent tax increase in 2020

Read more: Salmon Arm council decides who gets what in 2020 budget

Read more: Salmon Arm council divided on whether to cut more expenses in 2020

Chelsea Van de Cappelle, the city’s chief financial officer, prepared a report for council outlining preliminary figures affecting the city’s financial situation. She listed about a dozen pandemic-related items.

They included:

• a transfer from an emergency reserve of $470,460 into the 2020 budget;

• COVID leave – about $91,000 for staff wages when they were off for COVID testing, etc.

• COVID emergency grants for non profits – approximately $8,000 of $20,000 allotted;

• metered utility penalties waived – about $4,500;

• reduced lessee revenues: Sea Dog Rentals – approximately $20,000; Rosa’s Taco Stand – $470; and airport, North Okanagan Vertical Adventures –about $3,800.

• reduced revenues – parking fees $38,000 less than budgeted.

• burning permits – about $4,000 vs budget $12,000 ($8,000 deficit);

• traffic fines – approximately $500 vs budget $15,000 ($14,500 deficit);

• transit revenues – about $90,000 vs budget $162,000 ($72,000 deficit);

• Shaw Centre – operating deficits, about $477,000 vs budget $675,000;

• recreation centre – operating deficits, about $462,000 vs budget $679,000.

• hiring freeze and part-time/relief staff layoff is expected to create a reduction in operating and maintenance costs;

• many conferences and training workshops were cancelled or went virtual, so savings are expected.

• Roots and Blues, the Salmon Arm Children’s Festival and Canada Day celebrations did not occur, resulting in savings of about $78,000.

Van de Cappelle concluded that as a result of the numerous accounts impacted and the uncertainty surrounding funding shortfalls, she recommended that at least $1 million of the grant funding remain in place until the completion of the 2020 year-end.

Regarding future spending impacting the 2021 budget, she recommended that it be discussed at the 2021 budget deliberations, where council’s suggestions can be reviewed alongside those of staff.

In 2019, council completed budget deliberations with a 2.51 increase in the 2020 budget. When the potential effects of COVID-19 on the local economy, businesses and residents became apparent, council reduced the tax increase proposed for the 2020 budget to zero and extended the deadline for payment.
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