Nfld. & Labrador

To get through the pandemic, Municipalities NL suggests towns think regionally

Communities are facing added costs like the need for protective equipment for staff while also trying to balance the cost of public facilities left unused through the pandemic.

'Alone, many of these small towns won't make it through this pandemic,' says MNL president

Sheila Fitzgerald, president of Municipalities NL and mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, says towns are close to financial ruin due to the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador says towns are on the brink of financial ruin through the COVID-19 pandemic, and new approaches need to be taken to help.

Sheila Fitzgerald said municipalities are facing new challenges under the pandemic, including added costs for protective equipment for staff coupled with a drop in revenue from unused public facilities. Taxes are also an ongoing problem, with so many more people out of work, she said.

"COVID-19 has certainly changed the way that we do business, and had us really reflecting on whether or not our current taxation system really meets the needs of municipalities of all sizes in this province," Fitzgerald, who is also the mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm, told The St. John's Morning Show on Monday.

Fitzgerald said residents who have been able to pay taxes have been doing so, but businesses have taken a huge hit.

"In terms of our commercial [sector], we are hearing grave concerns from them, saying that COVID-19 has hit [them] greatly," she said. "For many small businesses they have to close their doors. For them, their future is unknown."

Businesses across the province have faced closing their doors through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Fitzgerald said the provincial government released municipal funding earlier than normal to help municipalities access additional funds during the pandemic, but hasn't heard much in terms of support from the federal government. The federal government needs to step in, she said, because municipalities in all provinces are at the brink of financial ruin.

"We can't run a deficit. We can't be at the end of the year still owing money," she said. "We also can't ask for loans to maintain operational costs."

Taking a regional approach to government

Fitzgerald said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown her the importance of working together, and sees collaboration as an approach that could work to help weather the storm.

"More now than ever, it's been a real lesson learned that we have to look at a regional approach," she said.

"While we've been doing some pieces of that all along, sharing expertise … we know now that alone, many of these small towns won't make it through this pandemic."

The idea of government regionalization is not new in Newfoundland and Labrador, but Fitzgerald said a collaborative approach could be what municipalities need to help stay afloat. In communities where a town staff can be as small as one person, she said, the help is always welcomed.

"If we could pull together as different regions … different clumps of municipalities pulling together, together we will have more," she said.

"We have went, in terms of municipalities, as far as we can go. It's going to take a call on provincial government to say the time is now."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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