Sidney staff are recommending a “cautious and measured approach” for the use of more than $2.75 million grant from the provincial government announced last week.
According to a report before Sidney councillors , the municipality will receive the “much higher than anticipated” amount under a federal-provincial program designed to help local governments with the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
“Given the uncertainty about the short and long-term impacts of COVID-19, staff will be recommending a cautious and measured approach to the use of the grant funds,” said Andrew Hicik, Sidney’s director of corporate services, in the report.
The Canada-BC Safe Restart Agreement earmarks direct grants of up to $425 million to local governments to help them with the financial impacts of the pandemic as well as costs related to the initial emergency and the subsequent re-opening. Re-start grants on the Saanich Peninsula include $3,455,000 for Central Saanich, $2,711,000 for North Saanich and $2,758,000 for Sidney.
Pointing to the letter from the provincial government announcing the funding, Hicik’s report leaves some uncertainty about potential uses for the funding, with revenue shortfalls; facility reopening and operating costs; emergency planning and response costs; bylaw enforcement and protective services such as fire and police; computer and other electronic technology costs; services for vulnerable persons; and other related costs listed as eligible.
“The use of the phrase ‘eligible costs’ may imply that additional information will be forthcoming on what may be deemed ‘ineligible;’ but that is not confirmed,” said Hicik.
While Hicik said it is “important not to commit too quickly to the use of funds,” he lists what he calls three initial suggestions: use the money to make up additional costs and lost revenue for 2020; continue the 2020 approach into 2021 (which would then create additional openings including continued or enhanced tax cuts or additional spending); or keep a portion for 2022 in case recovery is slower than expected. This option would allow the municipality “phasing back to a normal taxation level” along with its replenished surplus.
Hicik anticipates bringing forward a more detail report for future options. “No decisions on these or potential other options are required or expected at this time,” he said. “(However) initial direction prior to the upcoming budget process would be greatly beneficial.”
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