Coronavirus: councillors endorse 9 more relief measures as London, Ont., faces $32.8M budget shortfall

FILE. Matthew Trevithick / 980 CFPL File

While formal approval awaits at the next regular council meeting, London city councillors — sitting as the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC) — have endorsed nine additional measures outlined by city staff to help residents over the next two to three months.

The measures are described as “low-cost” or “no-cost” by Coun. Josh Morgan, who notes the city is in a difficult position financially as staff anticipate a shortfall of $32.8-million by the end of August due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: COVID-19 could deal $33M financial hit to London by end of August, city staff project

“[We estimate] $47.3-million in lost revenues by end of August, $10.1-million in additional costs, and then $24.6-million in cost savings or additional revenues that we’ve gotten through this, so obviously we’ve taken some actions trying to lower our cost,” Morgan explained.
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“That’s where we get the $32.8 million hole and that is reflective of a whole series of actions that the corporation [of the City of London] has already taken.”

The nine items endorsed by councillors — and listed below — relate to food security, housing stability, deferral of some payments for residents and businesses, internet access, and providing flexibility to loading/unloading and delivery times for businesses.

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“We can float some money, we can give some time, but we will have a financial problem at the end of this and we can only go so far,” said Morgan.

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“We’re in the awkward situation of having a financial hole but also being a level of government that wants to try to take some action to help Londoners where we can. As I’ve always said, there’s a partnership here between three levels of government — we all have to act.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Municipalities ask feds for $10B to maintain vital services

Late last week, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities asked the federal government for at least $10 billion in emergency operating money for local governments.

Morgan brought up that ask in an interview Wednesday morning on The Craig Needles Show on Global News Radio 980 CFPL, adding that provincial law bars the city from carrying a deficit.

“Given we really only have property tax and user fees as revenue tools — and frankly we’re not collecting user fees right now since we’re not running programs — property tax increases have to fill that or more service reductions, which is the direction we will likely go [without help from upper levels of government].”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: London city council approves deferral of final 2020 property tax payments by 60 days

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Councillors endorsed 9 out of 11 possible additional relief measures identified by civic administration in a report to SPPC on Wednesday. Those items are:

  • London Good Food Box: the program provides fresh produce at a cost of $10 to more than 350 low-income households. Cost: $11,000 from the city would subsidize over 350 boxes a month for three months.
  • Harvest Bucks: $2 vouchers used to buy fresh produce from local vendors, available in existing community food programs. Cost: $10,000 for 5,000 vouchers.
  • Housing Stability Bank: offers various loans for rent/utilities for low-income Londoners. Cost: $325,000 would allow the program to double the number of loans dispersed.
  • Rent deferral: 60-day deferral for tenants at city-owned properties. No cost, just deferral of revenue.
  • Closing the digital divide: expanding the Rogers Connected for Success program which provides low-cost internet to 582 London & Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH) households, providing support to explore expanding the program to other low-income London households. Cost: $45,000 to support an additional 1,500 households for 3 months.
  • Fresh, healthy food delivery: funding to help community organizations distribute food to those who are food insecure and unable to leave homes due to quarantining/self-isolation. Cost: $25,000.
  • Extending payment terms to customers: extending to 60 days on payment terms for May, June, and July for invoices for services the city provides to residents/businesses like boulevard parking, by-law enforcement, garbage collection, bulk water purchases, securing buildings, etc. Minimal cost through deferral of revenue and the loss of penalty/interest revenue.
  • Extending the remittance period for Municipal Accommodation Tax revenues: hotels and motels will have 90 days instead of 30 days to remit MAT revenues. No associated cost to the city.
  • Flexibility in loading/unloading and delivery times: parking officers can use additional discretion with respect to loading areas in and around the city’s core. Minimal cost.

Councillors did not support a proposed measure for a municipally funded emergency benefit, which would have likely cost $1.6-million, nor did councillors support an item to “waive the fee for Tree By-Law Permits for the remainder of 2020” which would likely have resulted in $12,000 in lost revenue.

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— with a file from The Canadian Press.