By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Chatham-Kent won’t be applying for the second round of financial COVID-19 aid from the province because of stipulations that prevent it from addressing future deficit issues.
The municipality has already received $5.8 million in the first phase of the Safe Restart Agreement Fund. At Monday night’s meeting, council voted not to apply for the second round because of government conditions that would render the funds useless.
“When we went through all our expenses we couldn’t justify, for 2020, the use of another $5.8 million for COVID-related expenses. But we will certainly need it for 2021,” Mayor Darrin Canniff explained.
The first round of funds was “no questions asked” but the second round would require a full account of how the expenses will be used in 2020. Pandemic-related deficits from 2021 are not allowed to be taken into account.
Canniff said the numbers are still being crunched for the upcoming year, but the municipality can foresee shortfalls from the Cascades Casino’s decreased revenue, a decline in arena use, and with interest rates deteriorating.
“Those are a couple of examples and there’s nothing we can do for it.”
Canniff said all other Tier 1 municipalities, with the exception of Ottawa, are in the same boat and plan to lobby for the changes.
“We need it (the funding) for 2021 because as on Jan. 1 this will not magically disappear and all of a sudden get better. Although I wish it would,” he said.
Chief financial officer Gord Quinton told councillors at the meeting that they have been asking the province all along for unconditional funding so municipalities could have the flexibility needed to allocate monies as they see fit.
Half the funds currently received will go toward paying off the deficit, estimated to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million. Quinton said the phase 2 funding could be used to help keep property tax increases to a minimum or funding new grants to assist with COVID-19 issues.
He added that all other municipal councils will be asked to pass a similar resolution.
“And so that the money won’t be left on the table and hopefully flow back to us for 2021 budget issues.
The motion also endorsed sending a letter to Ontario’s minister of municipal affairs and housing requesting that changes to the Phase 2 eligibility, funding 100 per cent of COVID-19 expenses for land ambulance and public health without impacting property taxes, increase funding to cost share affordable housing initiatives, and to work with all government levels to declare broadband Internet an essential service.
“I’m incredibly supportive of sending this letter to the provincial minister. I think that in the same way that each community is experiencing the intensity of COVID differently, at different times, as a municipality it’s really important for us to be able to use our best judgment and how it is that we leverage those provincial dollars,” said South Kent Coun. Melissa Harrigan.