By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
The Municipality of Chatham-Kent has yet to determine how it can spend COVID-19 bailout monies obtained from senior governments.
In August the provincial government announced more than $5.8 million for Chatham-Kent to help with the incurred costs from the pandemic. The funds came from a portion of the $7 billion the federal government allocated to Ontario to aid municipalities – who legally cannot run deficits – with their COVID-19 related expenses.
It is yet to be determined where Chatham-Kent’s projected $3 million deficit now stands, according to Don Shropshire, Chatham-Kent’s chief administrative officer.
Shropshire said there are certain “easy” expenses, such as personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, which will certainly be charged to the senior government funding. Other shortfalls, such as the $1.6 million of loss revenue from Chatham’s closed Casino, are harder to predict.
“From the casino was revenue that helps pay for other services to the public,” he said. “Until we actually get the details as to what’s applicable and what’s not applicable as an expense, we really can’t charge that back against the budget, so we’re still in a bit of a holding pattern.”
READ MORE: Chatham-Kent receives $5.8M in COVID funding
Anything that’s left over from that first instalment of funds could be held over by the municipality and applied to other COVID-19 related expenses on a “go forward” basis, Shropshire said. The municipality could be eligible for Phase 2 of funding (another $5.8 million) if it can demonstrate a need.
With the budget looking up, South Kent Coun. Mary Clare Latimer put forward a motion to council Monday requesting a “return to full to 2020 pre-COVID-19 approved budget service levels for all remaining services, for the remainder of 2020.”
Latimer said services that directly benefit women, children, residents with poor Internet services, as well as people with addiction and mental health needs are in high demand.
“It’s important to attempt to return to some normalcy within a safe context in a fiscally responsible manner where demand is evident for services,” she said.
The motion failed after April Rietdyk, general manager of community human services, recommended that staff come back with a report to get a sense of how their provincially funded programs will be impacted.
One of the programs that remains suspended throughout the fall is the Early Learning Program (ELP), funded through cost shared allocations.
Rietdyk said that there are “significant costs” associated with the reopening of childcare, such as extra cleaning and PPE.
“We need to ensure what those overall costs are,” she said. “What I don’t want us to run into is starting programs back up, when we actually – due to all of the other regulations that we have to follow – don’t have enough budgeted dollars to ensure that they are viable moving forward.”
Staff must also first determine what facilities, and level of service, can actually reopen under the COVID-19 physical distancing restrictions. Public demand will also be taken into account, as more people are opting to stay home and forgo some programs in 2020.
Chatham-Kent will continue to spend funds to lighten up the community.
South Kent Coun. Anthony Ceccacci successfully moved a resolution to resume service for community beautification, such as banners, hanging flower baskets or holiday streetlights.
He said it was extremely important to maintain a sense of community culture during these “very trying times,” and pointed out that Remembrance Day, followed by Christmas, was right around the corner.
“A lot of (the legions) are struggling financially, due to COVID, and I think this is something to help them move the Remembrance Day services forward. Many will be virtual, or very low key, so this is one way that we actually can help them recognize our veterans and help them get their signs up,” said Wallaceburg Coun. Carmen McGregor.