Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Chatham-Kent’s business people are carving into retirement savings and taking out loans or lines of credit to ensure they have sufficient cash flow to survive day-to-day, according to the co-chairs of the Economic Recovery Task Force.
The task force represented nine sector groups, 500 businesses and non-profit groups, who employ more than 10,000 people.
At Monday night’s virtual meeting, Chatham-Kent councillors approved the recommendations laid out by the task force, after co-chairs Michael Grail and Rocky Gaudrault, both veteran Chatham-Kent businessmen, presented their report.
Council voted to consider a $2-million property tax forgiveness program or grant program. A report is expected to go before council in 30 days with further details on how it could be funded and implemented.
“In speaking to people across C-K, it is clear that this crisis was like nothing any of us have ever experienced,” Grail said. “We heard about people whose anxiety levels were impacting their mental health as they worked each day trying to determine if they can survive this or if they should just call it quits.”
Gaudrault said the $2-million ask would also help support smaller business owners or gig economy workers (freelancer and contract workers), as larger businesses have been receiving funding in various forms from senior levels of government.
“And a lot of the gig economy has been left behind in that moment,” he said. “So, the primary focus frankly, from an economic perspective, ends up being on the gig economy votes. Because they account for a large portion of our economy.”
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Additionally, in September, staff will provide a report on ways to consider a zero-tax increase in 2021.
“While we all look to restart the Chatham-Kent economy, this shows leadership on part of the council,” Grail said.
Other recommendations were to create a C-K business advisory group, which would work with the municipality strategically work projects that would drive the recovery and growth of Chatham-Kent.
The task force also recommended that the municipality invest in social infrastructure and to move projects on a quicker timeline in order to be shovel ready.
Grail said the $2-million ask of the municipality was a minimum and they are hoping to see more subsidies from senior levels of government. As provincial emergency orders continue to be extended, he expects the business community will likely see more subsidies.
“Let’s be honest, this was artificially created by the government. The federal government made a decision to save lives over the economy,” he said. “It is up to the government to at least give them a fighting chance.”
Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall, who moved to adopt the recommendations, said that it does immediately force council to make financial commitments but keeps the momentum going.
CAO, Don Shropshire, said service reductions will likely be a large source of savings for the municipality to support the $2 million grant request.
Several councillors said although they thought the municipality was on the right track, service reductions to save costs can become a very political issue.
“And I would hate for that to ruin this whole initiative we got going here,” said East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault.
“I understand the pain that the business community is feeling, but I also understand the pain that the residential community and institutional community is feeling,” South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson said. “I think going forward as a council we have to be cognizant that we have to keep an eye out and make decisions for everybody that we represent.”