Thunder Bay

City council votes to cut many summer programs in Thunder Bay due to pandemic

Rides on the Muskeg Express, the bumper cars at Chippewa Park or taking a dip at an outdoor pool will have to wait until next summer.

City will save about $500k due to program reduction

Thunder Bay city councillors on Monday night approved cancelling a number of summer recreational programs and services, including amusement rides at Chippewa Park, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kathy Toivonen)

Rides on the Muskeg Express, the bumper cars at Chippewa Park or taking a dip at an outdoor pool will have to wait until next summer.

City councillors in Thunder Bay, Ont., voted on Monday night to allow administration to make a number of changes to service levels, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the programs that were halted for this summer, would not be able to operate due to physical distancing regulations. The resolution councillors voted on will also keep many city facilities closed until next year.

Outdoor pools, for example, take at least four to six weeks of maintenance, as well as training for staff to safely operate.

The provincial state of emergency does not allow the city to carry out the work that is needed at this time - meaning any pool opening, at this point, would take until at least July to carry out. The two outdoor pools close at the end of August.

City administration said it could redeploy some lifeguards to Sandy Beach at Chippewa Park, if regulations allow. 

Other changes include cancellation of group fitness classes, as well as events like the Kite Festival, Teddy Bear's Picnic and Canada Day festivities.

Some activities and facilities, like splash pads or children's day camps could operate this summer, depending on provincial regulations.

Nearly 15 full-time-equivalent employees will not be hired by the city this summer for the impacted programs. The same calculation means about 70 students will not be hired by the city this summer.

The total savings are partially offset by a lack of revenue from the Thunder Bay Border Cats baseball team, which will not need to rent space at Port Arthur Stadium for the season.

Overall, the city will save about $554,155 due to the changes.

Not all of the savings identified in the report are new, with administration forecasting some of those savings in a previous report.

Asset management

Council also heard how administration is working on preparing the city's asset management plan, as mandated by the province.

The document, which is completed in phases and will take until 2024 to complete, will provide the city with plan on how to maintain, and pay for its current assets.

The city should put away about $55.1 million per year for either future replacement or maintenance costs. However, the city budgets much less, leaving an infrastructure gap of about $21.7 million per year.

The creation of the plan itself received unanimous approval from council, however, the fact that some 'soft services' provided by the city, like parks and recreation services, could see cuts, as they are in the latter phases of the plan, concerned Coun. Andrew Foulds.

"If we continually under budget, I am just extraordinarily concerned that once again, those things that the city does that improves the quality of life, simply won't be funded." 

Coun. Aldo Ruberto wanted the city to partner with school boards, or other groups to potentially reduce the cost of operating playgrounds and other facilities.

He suggested renting out, or selling excess park spaces to try and raise money to pay for existing services.

The asset management plan itself will not deal with those types of issues. It will create a plan on how the city will pay for the repairs of existing assets.

It will not bind the city into budgeting the proper amount to maintain all assets, at least immediately, administration said.

Other items

City councillors also voted to receive a report from administration on how the city could better engage council and the public on decisions being reached to host evacuees.

The city decided in late March that it would not be able to host evacuees due to floods or forest fires.

Often, people living in northern communities are hosted in Thunder Bay due to an emergency.

The city's Municipal Emergency Response Group made the decision in March to say Thunder Bay did not have the ability to host evacuees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, a report from administration on how the city could provide funding to homeowners to replace lead pipes in their homes was withdrawn.

The report originally suggested to provide an interest-free loan over a decade.

The item will be brought back to council in the future.

About the Author

Jeff Walters

Reporter/Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.

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