On Wednesday, Guelph’s city council will sit again as the supervisors of the local government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now we have the latest published details of the impact caused by these circumstances. And while there’s nothing really flashy like a new patio program, there is an understanding that we’ll be living with the impact from COVID long after the summer is over.
Managing the Impacts of COVID-19: Update #4 – This month’s update about the City’s response to COVID-19 does not have anything audacious planned like a closing down street downtown for patios, but it does look at the long-term implications of the virus on the City’s financial bottom line.
June 30 marked the end of the second quarter for the 2020 fiscal year, and the picture presented in the new report represents the best knowledge of staff up until the end of June. The second quarter variance report will come forward with a more complex fiscal update at September’s council meeting.
In the meantime, staff is saying that contingency reserves “may be severely impaired beyond 2020” if upper levels of government do not answer the call for emergency operating funds. According to the report, the City’s collected approximately $12 million less in taxes when compared to this time last year and that’s owed to non-residential taxpayers taking advantage of the waiver period for interest and penalties. This period is still going to end on August 1, but the City notes that property tax collection was remained strong despite the challenges of the pandemic.
As it stands, the City is still on track for an operating deficit of between $2 and $4 million this year, but that does not take into account the provincially-mandated changes that City Hall had to implement as part of the Stage 2 re-opening. Those costs will be full outlined in August’s COVID-19 response report to council. In other losses, Alectra Utilities is reducing its planned dividend for 2020 by $260,000 as a result of losses caused by the pandemic.
Along with revenue issues, the City is looking for cost-saving measures. The Provincial government has discussed finding ways to reduce “red tape” and find efficiencies at the municipal level, and City staff in Guelph have a number of suggestions. A lot of those suggestions are increasing the City’s digital footprint by offering more services digitally, and do more digital reporting. There’s also the suggestion that city council and committee meetings should continue to be held remotely, and they have posted a new meeting schedule for September through December that more closely resembles a regular council schedule, including the return of Committee of the Whole.
Council will be asked to pass one measure of new funding, and that’s a $300,000 transfer from the Tax Rate Operating Contingency Reserve for new directions to support small businesses; $125,000 will be given to Innovation Guelph, and $175,000 to the Business Centre of Guelph Wellington to create and administer those programs.
Guelph Temporary Patio Program Temporary Use Bylaw – Although the temporary patio program has been in effect for nearly a month, council will now finally approve the bylaw that will govern all these new amenities designed to get the local economy back on track after COVID-19.
Since the July 17 meeting, the Government of Ontario has issued an order to allow municipalities greater flexibility in allowing temporary patios for local businesses. The emergency order effectively allows cities and towns to override key bylaws and notice deadlines for the 2020 patio season, while creating uniform guidelines across Ontario.
The program itself is relatively unchanged, but staff has brought changes to the City’s own regulations, which will be amended to come inline with the Provincial orders. Council is being asked to authorize those changes.
Also, anyone wanting to take advantage of the temporary patio program, will have to apply electronically through guelph.ca, and will have to adhere to the updated guidelines demanded by the Province to make sure new patios are in compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Also, patios will not be able not be able to take over streets or City-owned parking spaces until they’ve received staff approval.