Last week, the Government of Ontario announced further financial aid for cities for the 2021 fiscal year. The funds are desperately needed as we enter the second year of the pandemic, and the Provincial government wants to be seen as proactive as they get ready to deliver their next budget. So where is the money going to go, and who else just gave the City of Guelph a big cheque?
In last week’s announcement, the government revealed that Guelph’s portion of the funding was $3,684,802. According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the money was meant to offset the financial pressures of cities trying to operate safely in the pandemic.
“Municipalities have the flexibility to use this funding to address the specific priorities of their communities based on their unique COVID-19-related operating pressures,” said Conrad Spezowka. “For example, they can use the funds to provide personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and by-law enforcement to keep their communities safe.”
Thursday’s announcement from the City of Guelph added additional information about support for Guelph Transit. There will be two chances for our transit system to get recovery funds through the Province; Guelph Transit is eligible for up to $6.4 million to cover expenses from between October and March, and is also eligible for up to $4.9 million for a period between April 1 and the end of the year.
Guelph Transit lost about $8 million in revenue in 2020 due to low ridership from the pandemic, and the cancellation of the universal student bus pass at the University of Guelph for the summer and fall semesters.
“COVID-19 has completely changed how often people use transit. Municipal transit providers need to review and renew our approach to transit service in the years ahead,” said Guelph Transit GM Robin Gerus in a statement. “Guelph is grateful to have provincial support to explore ways to improve public transit in our community and throughout Ontario.”
Guelph Transit will also be able to use a portion of the April to December funding to cover up to 50 per cent of the costs related to transit service modernization and transformation. At the same time, the City will also be able to use any leftover funds from the $3.7 million announced to offset costs in future years by moving that extra money into reserves.
Guelph’s hydro provider Alectra Utilities also brought a cheque to the City on Thursday, this one was for $750,400 from Alectra’s Save on Energy program due to the City’s conversion of all 13,000 street lights to LED. According to the City of Guelph, the conversion saved $400,000 in energy costs since October 2019.
“The switch to LED streetlights is a win-win for our city, saving us millions of dollars in electricity costs and reducing carbon emissions by hundreds of tonnes. I’m thrilled that it has also earned us these funds from the provincial Save on Energy program,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie in a statement. “Council made a commitment to tackle climate change and initiatives like this one show how we are not only reducing carbon emissions but saving on operating costs.”
The three quarters of a million dollars will be put towards the $9 million cost of transitioning to LED streetlights, an upgrade that is expected to save the City of Guelph nearly $15 million over 15 years.
“Our energy experts are committed to working with our municipal partners to achieve their green infrastructure goals,” said Brian Bentz, President and CEO of Alectra. “This work is an important part of our efforts to build a clean energy future in our communities.”
In other news, the Government of Ontario announced on Thursday that they will deliver the 2021-22 Provincial budget in less than two weeks on March 24. A government media release said that the budget will focus on healthcare resources, economic initiatives, and and support for the province-wide vaccine distribution plan.
“Our focus has got to be protecting health and jobs today,” said Minister of Finance and President of the Treasury Board Peter Bethlenfalvy in a statement. “Even though the light at the end of the tunnel shines brighter with each person that is vaccinated, we are going to take nothing for granted.”