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As COVID costs mount, Sudbury prepares for tough budget decisions – and life after the pandemic
SUDBURY -- A combination of lost revenue and higher operating costs has blown a $6.8 million in Greater Sudbury's budget, a number that is rising every week.
A report headed to city council Tuesday details where the shortfalls and added expenses are coming from. Chief among the losses are $5.7 million in lost revenue, primarily in user fees.
"The majority (62 per cent) of the revenue impact comes from shortfalls in user fees such as transit fares, leisure programs and rentals and tipping fees," says a staff report on the budget.
Another 20 per cent comes from revenue from the city's share of casino revenues, hotel tax revenue and provincial offences fines.
"Lost interest payments on taxes and lower investment income make up the last significant portion (15 per cent) of the total," the report says.
Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo, who chairs the city's finance committee, says the shortfall is significant, but that doesn't mean local taxes will soar to make up the shortfall. It's important to remember the city has a budget of more than $500 million.
"These numbers are projecting out towards the end of June, when you look at the city's overall budget, $6.8 million is not a larger number in terms of that entire budget," Jakubo said.
"We've made some very difficult decisions in the last couple of years that should allow us to have very minimal impact on people's 2020 taxes beyond what has already been passed in the budget."
Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre said the pandemic response will have an impact, but exactly where remains to be determined.
"Whether we need to put a few projects on hold -- like I'm talking infrastructure, or linear infrastructure or anything like that -- and reallocate those funds to balance the budget for this year," Lapierre said.
While there is less money coming in, costs for some services have risen. The biggest single increase is in costs delivering emergency medical services, which have increase by $1.14 million more than forecast.
"This situation requires us to maintain flexibility to implement additional mitigation strategies and to factor these realities into our decisions to restore services," the staff report says.
The city is also preparing for the sort of long-term changes resulting from the global pandemic. City transit buses will be fitted with a Plexiglas barrier to protect drivers, something that will be more common when accessing all city services, and a steady supply of masks and other equipment will b needed long term.
"Physical distancing, personal hygiene and other directives must be respected within our workplaces," the report said. "Protecting employees and citizens to ensure that appropriate procedures and PPE (personal protective equipment) is available, without compromising essential services. Current PPE supplies are satisfactory, but continuous, reliable supply levels must be in place to support routine operations."
While challenging, the city's response has sparked changes in the way the city works that could become permanent.
"Some of the changes required as a result of the COVID-19 response have resulted in improved service delivery," the report said. "These can be maintained to for reasons of efficiency or better service.
"Staff is actively analyzing the changes in work processes and the impact on productivity, efficiency, as well as on employee wellness and satisfaction. This work will determine how to bring back other services and what changes would be advantageous to the municipality for the future."
The fact so many of the city's 2,000 employees are able to work from home gives staff time to consider long-term changes before implementing them.
-- Files from Ian Campbell