PEI

COVID-19 takes bite out of budgets for P.E.I. cities, towns

COVID-19 has meant a loss of revenue and changes to staffing for cities and several towns on P.E.I.

Charlottetown braces for loss in revenue of nearly $750,000

Charlottetown Coun. Terry Bernard, who is the finance chair, says the city is OK until the end of May, but if closures continue beyond that the city may have to take another look at its budget. (Shane Ross/CBC)

COVID-19 has meant a loss of revenue as well as changes to staffing for P.E.I.'s two cities and some towns as well.

The City of Charlottetown is bracing for a drop of nearly $750,000 in revenues.

Coun. Terry Bernard, the city's finance chair, says Charlottetown will take the money out of a $2.1 million reserve fund so the loss of revenue will not affect tax rates or prompt layoffs.

Bernard said city officials are in talks now about summer programs, and the city may delay hiring some seasonal staff depending on when physical distancing restrictions are eased.

The capital city hires 220 seasonal staff annually. Bernard said it's too early to say how many may be affected if the city has to delay some hiring. 

Coun. Terry Bernard says Charlottetown will take any losses in revenue out of a $2.1 million reserve fund so as not to impact tax rates or force layoffs. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

"We knew it was going to impact our budget so we went in and did some re-estimates and we pulled back about $750,000 in estimates that we knew probably wasn't going to be there," said Bernard, who brought down the city's budget in early April.

"So that's mostly your parking garages, your on-street parking, your recreation facilities, your community centres, your ice rinks. Some of it is your police infractions — there's less traffic on the roads. The bulk of it would be your parking." 

'We are seeing impacts'

The city is not charging for parking, and because of the need for physical distancing most recreation and community centres are closed, so the city is not able to rent those facilities.

Rob Philpot, CAO for Summerside, says they are now doing projections on what impact COVID-19 will have on the city's finances. (Google Street View)

Last week, the City of Halifax axed nearly one-third of its staff — about 1,500 positions —  and cancelled summer programs as it grappled with significant shortfalls because of the pandemic.

Summerside CAO Rob Philpott says city officials are now projecting what effect COVID-19 will have on their budget if the restrictions now in place last three months, six months, or longer. He hopes to present those numbers to council next month. 

Credit Union Place is closed, which means there are no revenues coming in from the hockey arena, bowling alleys, pool or fitness centre. Culture Summerside programs have been cancelled and parking ticket revenues are down, Philpott explained. 

He said the city will have more specifics at next month's council meeting. 

"There's no question from a cash-flow perspective, we are seeing impacts because we're not taking in as much revenue as we normally would, but neither are we spending as much as we normally do," said Philpott.

Stratford, Cornwall also affected

Philpott said once officials see the numbers they can look at their options, which may include deferring some capital projects and increasing user fees. He said they want to ensure it will have a minimal impact on staffing. 

Robert Hughes, Stratford's CAO, said town officials are currently reviewing their summer positions. They usually hire 20 to 25 staff throughout the summer. He said that may be cut in half depending on what programs they will be allowed to offer.

We're in a new world right now.— Charlottetown Coun. Terry Bernard

"We are reviewing our summer positions now and they will likely be impacted to some degree depending on what will be allowed as the [chief health officer] introduces ease-back measures," Hughes wrote in an email to CBC News. 

Kevin Coady, CAO of Cornwall, said the town has created a COVID-19 contingency fund to help cover some of its losses in revenue. He said they have also had to cut seven non-permanent staff. 

The town usually hires 20 seasonal staff every summer but town officials are now reviewing how many of those positions they'll need. 

"We cut our parks and recreation spring program revenues completely, summer program revenue was cut by a third," Coady wrote in an email. "It may turn out that we should have cut summer program revenue entirely." 

'We're in a new world right now'

Summerside Coun. Bruce MacDougall sits on the board of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and said the federation has made "a substantial" request for funding to the federal government, but would not specify how much.

Bruce MacDougall, who sits on the board of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, says the federation has made 'a substantial' request for funding from the federal government for Canadian municipalities. (Submitted)

MacDougall said municipalities big and small across the country are feeling the pandemic pain.  

Bernard said Charlottetown is OK until the end of May. He said if the closures go beyond that, the city may have to take another look at its budget. 

The city still has about $1.3 million in its reserve account so it may have to tap into that further to avoid layoffs or tax increases, Bernard explained.   

"We're in a new world right now," he said.

"We have to continue to be ready because it's going to be the municipalities on the ground, the cities, that are going to have to do their best to get the economy up and rolling again. So part of that is trying to keep our employees with money in their pocket and trying to get the city looking good and able to rebound as best we can to help our businesses in the city."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.

  • Cough.

  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

 

About the Author

Wayne Thibodeau

Prince Edward Island

Wayne Thibodeau is a reporter/editor with CBC Prince Edward Island. He has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and video journalist in print, digital and TV for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Wayne.Thibodeau@CBC.ca

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