Municipalities in line for millions in unclaimed COVID relief, even if they don't need it
Ottawa provided $41.1M in aid for New Brunswick. Less than half has been spoken for
New Brunswick municipalities will be splitting $20 million in unclaimed COVID-19 relief next month, part of a federal assistance quirk that delivered more aid to the province's local governments than was ultimately needed – and much more than similar-sized communities in other Canadian provinces were offered
New Brunswick local government minister Daniel Allain said he expects about half of the $41.1 million provided by Ottawa for municipal COVID assistance this summer to be unspoken for at year-end.
The leftover balance will be sent to all 104 eligible New Brunswick municipalities according to their size, even if they have already said they don't need the money.
"They will distribute it on a per capita basis," hopefully by the end of January, Allain said.
"We want to disperse the money as soon as possible."
Depending on the final amount, the giveaway of leftover funds could mean January payments of up to $3 million each for Moncton and Saint John, and as little as $8,000 apiece for villages like Meductic and Alma, New Brunswick's smallest municipalities.
It also means payments will be going to communities that have already indicated they suffered no financial losses because of the pandemic.
We're sticking to Safe Restart deal, Allain says
Allain said the agreement New Brunswick signed with Ottawa requires that all the money be paid out to local governments.
"We are adhering to the Safe Restart agreement," which means the money is used to "help municipalities," he said.
In July, Prime Minister Trudeau announced an agreement to provide $2 billion to municipal governments across Canada, not including transit assistance, to compensate for revenue losses and increased expenses caused by the pandemic.
"Our towns and cities have been at the forefront of responding to COVID-19," said Trudeau.
"Cities must remain up and running if our economy is to eventually get back up and running. That's why today's agreement provides municipalities with funding to cover operational costs."
Each province was given an amount based on its total population - just over $52 per person - with the stipulation that all of the money be forwarded on to local governments.
That brought $41.1 million to New Brunswick. But with a large rural population living in local service districts, less than 70 per cent of the province's residents actually live inside of a municipality – the least amount among provinces.
Dividing 100 per cent of federal COVID municipal relief funding among 70 per cent of the population boosted amounts available to New Brunswick municipalities close to $80 per person.
It's the highest per-capita federal funding for municipal COVID relief in Canada among the provinces, although there is little sign New Brunswick communities required nearly that much.
In early November, Allain sent a letter to all 104 eligible New Brunswick communities, asking them to detail their COVID-related expenses and losses minus any money they saved because of the pandemic, and to submit a claim for reimbursement from the $41.1 million federal fund by Dec. 31.
As of Dec. 23, 45 eligible communities had asked for money, although the amounts were well below the $80 per person the province has been given to hand out.
Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton have received the most so far, a combined $9 million to cover operational and transit losses. That's funding of about $45 per person living in the three centres.
Riverview says it saw net savings from pandemic
Five communities – including New Brunswick's fourth-largest municipality, Dieppe, and its seventh-largest, Miramichi – wrote back to say they suffered no "net" COVID losses and would be making no claim.
The remaining 54 communities had not yet responded, but some seemed unlikely to be asking for help either.
Riverview, New Brunswick's fifth-largest municipality, had a council meeting Dec. 14, at which town staff reported the pandemic resulted in a number of service cuts that offset additional costs.
"Because Riverview acted proactively and managed expenses from the early stages of this pandemic, the financial statements indicate the town has a net savings and therefore is not eligible to receive funding," read a report delivered to council by the town's finance department.
But Riverview would still receive more than $750,000 in federal COVID relief aid if $20 million remains unclaimed and Allain moves forward with his plan to distribute leftover funds evenly among municipalities.
Allain said he is hoping more communities come forward to apply for individual relief funding in the days before the big giveaway.
"We hope to have a good majority (of claims) by the 31st of December," he said. "And if we don't, I hope to extend it for maybe a week or two."