(Black Press file photo)

COLUMN: Summerland council taking stock of its finances in wake of COVID-19

Municipality must examine effect of pandemic on budget items

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down.

Besides worrying about our wellbeing and the health of our loved ones, we’re seeing businesses close, people losing their jobs, and many of us struggling to make ends meet.

The federal and provincial governments have announced financial supports for businesses and individuals and, understandably, many people want to know if local government is also able to help.

On March 9, Summerland council discussed ideas like providing a grace period for the payment of property taxes and utility bills. It was agreed that before providing any public assistance we needed to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the municipality’s own operations and revenues.

Just as households and businesses are looking at their accounts in the wake of the pandemic, council needs to take stock of its financial situation.

READ ALSO: Summerland’s proposed budget requires $16,382,355

READ ALSO: Summerland property taxes forecast to rise

One of the biggest hits will be to the recreation department’s annual revenue of $800,000, including $230,00 from arena rentals; over $100,000 from youth and adult programs and events like the Giant’s Head Run; more than $100,000 from fitness centre memberships and drop-in tickets and more than $100,000 from swimming lessons, public swimming and other aquatic programs.

While there may be some savings on the expense side, the operational costs of recreational facilities are mainly fixed.

The problem is that we’re dealing with a Socratic paradox (named after the Greek philosopher Socrates): The only thing we know is that we know nothing.

We don’t know how long the arena and the aquatic centre will remain closed. We don’t if Peach Orchard Campground, which provides $100,000 in revenue, will even open for the season.

We don’t know the impact on the many capital projects slated for this year, including a second scale at the landfill; trail repairs on the lakeshore and up Peach Orchard; new pickleball courts; a dog park; and road works on Victoria Road, Doherty Avenue/Bathville Road, and Turner Street.

Hopefully most projects can proceed as planned. Each one is important to the community, and spending on public infrastructure can help to fight a recession and get local business back to work.

However, even if projects are financially feasible, some could stall due to government orders for social distancing and self isolation.

These orders could also delay council initiatives that will require extensive public engagement, including the development of a downtown plan, designs for a recreation and health centre, and the affordable housing forum.

District staff are currently conducting a review of municipal finances and priorities and will provide recommendations for consideration at an upcoming council meeting.

While we just recently concluded our 2020 budget deliberations, council may need to re-deliberate. At that time, we’ll look to see where we can offer relief to residents and businesses as a short-term measure.

In the long-term, we’ll be dealing with a new normal. But Summerland is resilient.

Once this crisis is finally over, we’ll come together to rebuild our local economy and society, and we’ll come out the other side a rejuvenated, stronger community.

Doug Holmes is a Summerland councillor.

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