Thunder Bay city council hopes mitigation by administration holds down monthly $1.5M budget variance
City moves forward with capital projects, including Balmoral St. reconstruction
A report by Thunder Bay city administration on how much COVID-19 could impact the city's 2020 budget was received by councillors - with some wanting to know what's on the chopping block to try and keep the budget on track.
The budget variance stems from a double-edged sword of less revenue coming in from divisions like transit, child care, recreation and casino revenues. But, the city also has some higher expenses in items like personal protective equipment, one time staffing costs and setting up staff to work from home.
Mayor Bill Mauro wanted to know what administration was doing specifically to keep the budget in line, as City Manager Norm Gale said council would need to provide direction on where to make spending adjustments.
"You said you're working on mitigation. We have $1.5 million more that's going to be added to $4.5 by the end of June. We have eight weeks to try and identify that. Are you telling me here tonight that you want me to identify it for you?" asked Mauro.
Gale said administration was doing its best to keep costs in line, but any service changes would need to be approved by council.
Linda Evans, the city treasurer, said spending on budget lines like travel and training were now zero, and she expected that to continue into the future.
The variance projections also include rate-supported services, like water, wastewater and solid waste operations, with those operations slated to be $700,000 in the red by the end of May, with a continuing loss of $300,000 per month.
Part of that projection is due to lower water consumption in the city, partially because of the closure of many water-intensive businesses, like hair salons, restaurants and hotels.
Options administration could use to help reduce the 2020 variance include cancelling capital projects, freezing hiring of new staff and offering early retirement, with the final option being suggested at council.
Transit wage, parking
Coun. Kristen Oliver brought forward a resolution to lobby the province, to increase the wage of transit operators by $4 an hour, to better reflect their front-line worker status. The goal was to have their wages go up, just like those for nurses and other front-line healthcare staff.
Oliver's resolution originally included lobbying for paramedic wages as well, but the province included those employees in its wage top-up last week.
The resolution failed, with many on council noting that the wage increases were specific to health care.
As well, council will get more information next week from the Parking Authority on a resolution penned by Coun. Aldo Ruberto, asking the city to consider waiving its fees for the two city-run parkades in the downtown cores.
Ruberto said the gesture would be appreciated by the many healthcare workers who use the parkades, who work at St. Joseph's Care Group.
Mark Smith, the manager of development services said at a meeting last week, the Parking Authority had issues with the resolution, partially due to a loss in revenue, and because if parking was free, there are concerns other costs would increase at the parkades, like security.
On-street parking is currently free across the city.
Balmoral St. reconstruction
City council also approved millions of dollars in construction, with a $5.5 M contract awarded to Nadin Contracting for the reconstruction of Balmoral St, between Hewitson St. and Alloy Drive.
The job is the second phase of four, with work being completed in 2021 to Central Avenue, and the following year to Beverley St.
The job includes roadwork, but also stormwater pipes, as well as sidewalks and a multi-use trail.
Coun. Andrew Foulds was supportive of the work, but concerned the multi-use path on the west side of the roadway could end up looking like, "a trail to nowhere" given the phasing of the project.
An additional $6.3 million in sewer and waterworks was also approved on Monday night, at various areas throughout the city.