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New Brunswick municipalities hoping for aid as pandemic takes economic toll

New Brunswick municipalities say they need assistance during coronavirus pandemic
WATCH: Shutdowns mean municipal services across New Brunswick are not bringing in the money that is needed by local governments. As Travis Fortnum reports, that’s bad news for the already financially crippled Saint John

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs says he’ll meet with the province’s municipalities to discuss the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the province’s coronavirus update Thursday afternoon, Higgs said mitigation would need to be handled on an individual basis.

“It’s going to be case-by-case and working with municipalities to do the right thing and whether it’s changing the borrowing rules or whether it is funding, but it’ll be a managed process and I’m starting that tomorrow with the municipalities meeting,” he said.

READ MORE: Blaine Higgs suggests N.B. could be first province to reopen as no coronavirus cases reported Thursday

Municipalities in New Brunswick are not able to borrow to cover operational costs, only capital costs.

This creates a difficult situation as pandemic-related shutdowns plague them all.

“The province is collecting information on the specifics for municipalities across the province,” said Margot Cragg, executive director of the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick.

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“So it’s good news that they are thinking about this challenge.”

Cragg said the municipalities are also in talks with Ottawa, to see what aid might come from the federal level.

The City of Saint John is in a particularly troubling state, with the city facing deficits of over $10 million in 2020 and 2021 before COVID-19 changed those calculations.

Saint John EMO preparing for COVID-19 impacts
Saint John EMO preparing for COVID-19 impacts

At a meeting of the city’s finance committee Wednesday night, finance commissioner Kevin Fudge presented projections of possible additional losses.

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For a best-case scenario of three months of impacted revenue, Fudge said the city stands to lose $5.3 million.

His worst-case scenario sees things lasting up to nine months — which would cost the city $12.2 million.

Cragg said she is optimistic that the unprecedented scenario of the pandemic will be met with unprecedented solutions.

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“It’s everybody’s first pandemic,” she said.

“I don’t think anybody has experienced anything like this – and that’s the biggest challenge.”

Cragg is also encouraged to see everyone doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Ideally if we all do our part we’re going to see everybody – everyone’s going to be safe and healthy at the other end so that we can face the recovery together,” she said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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