For the fifth and (perhaps) final time, council will hold a special COVID-19 response meeting before returning to a more normal council schedule in September. There isn’t much in the way of new initiatives, but there are some interesting insights into how the City of Guelph is still managing the effects of the pandemic, and what the immediate future looks like for City Hall.
Managing the Impacts of COVID-19: Update #5 – The report begins with the all important economic considerations. With the second quarter budget variance report due next month, the financial staff has a better idea about the full budgetary implications of COVID-19, and that number is $24.3 million, $20.7 million in lost revenue and $3.6 million in additional costs. Although the City has saved about $14 million through lay-offs, service reductions, and a halt to discretionary spending that still leaves a $10 million deficit that will have to be covered.
Of course, there have been some announcements concerning emergency operating funding from the Federal and Provincial government, but those details have not yet been available. One of the three recommendations from staff is to convey the urgency for those emergency funds to the Deputy Prime Minister, the Federal Minister of Finance, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Ontario’s Minister of Finance, and the Premier of Ontario.
A big piece of this is transit, and of course it was announced this week by the University of Guelph’s student governments that they will not be charging students for the universal bus pass in the fall and likely winter semesters. This means that there will $3.5 million less in revenue per semester, which blows a pretty big hole in the transit budget. The report doesn’t outline any possible service cuts or realignments because of the revenue loss, but it does say that a letter from the City and the U of G has been sent to Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney and others in the Government of Ontario cabinet asking for transit support.
On economic matters in the broader city, the report also includes updates on the latest meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Recovery, and the biggest action to come out of that, the Temporary Patio Program and Dining District. There are no hard numbers about how many patios have been approved, but the report does say that the program “continues to evolve for the better.” For instance, a “patio ambassador” has been appointed to make sure guidelines and safety requirements are enforced. A full report on the experiment will be brought back to council on or before April 2021.
The Guelph Farmers’ Market has seen about 60 per cent of normal attendance since it re-opened in the first weekend of July. Presently, the City is working with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health to see about the re-opening of the indoor portion of the market, and the report says that there could be about 30 to 35 new vendors added back to the Market by early September.
The City is slowly securing a safe re-opening of all City facilities, with priority going to buildings where staff are currently working and that have public access. Staff are working in both the Sleeman Centre and the River Run Centre, and have been given the necessary materials and precautions to do so safely, but it’s still going to be a while before people talk about hold large public gatherings at these locations.
In answering a question that Mayor Cam Guthrie posed last month about waiving lottery license fees for charitable organizations, the investigations of City staff discovered that the impact of waiving the three per cent administrative fee would be $25,000. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but staff is recommending against proceeding with the waiver unless the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) agrees to waive their fees too, which who make the move more worthwhile for local charities, especially the smaller ones.
The report also published a schedule for the 2021 council and Committee of the Whole meetings, but while it looks like a normal timetable for council business, the report suggests that these meetings should continue to be held remotely well into 2021. “[S]taff strongly recommend that meetings in 2021 continue to be held remotely until public health advice and guidance supports a return to in-person meetings,” the report reads.
And yes, the City is thinking about a second wave, and the Emergency Operations Control Group (EOCG) is still meeting twice weekly to talk about the lessons they’ve learned from the first wave to prepare better for the next one.