Coronavirus: City of Kawartha Lakes working to curb projected $2.5M deficit

City of Kawartha Lakes Municipal Hall building. Paul Dinsdale/Global News

When it comes to revenue losses due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, previous emergency orders and reduction in services, the City of Kawartha Lakes continues to try to find efficiencies in its budget.

Revenue losses were originally projected at $3.2 million for 2020, but that number has grown to approximately $4.5 million.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: City of Kawartha Lakes to reopen most of its arenas

The municipality has cut back on some of its expenses, through layoffs and service reductions, and is now projecting a deficit of about $2.5 million that it wants to get to $0 by year’s end.

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“I don’t think we are going to find $2.5 million in cuts and nobody is going to notice that we’ve had to reduce some things,” said Mayor Andy Letham.  “We’re going to continue to have a reduction in some of the services we have with our service centres and at some of our facilities.”

On Tuesday, council passed a motion to reopen most arenas this fall at a staggered pace, although three arenas will remain closed for the rest of the year.

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Meanwhile, the city staff have reassessed finances following property tax deferrals, which ended in June.

“When we were able to revisit the forecast at the end of June, we realized it was actually $4.5 million instead of $3.2 million.  We’ve found a good portion of that, but we have about $2.5 million to find,” said Jennifer Stover, director of corporate services.

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“The $3 million we’ve found so far comes from the layoffs of staff, not hiring summer students, [and] eliminating discretionary expenses.  That was our initial review.  We’ve exhausted everything we can cut from our budget, so it’s now going to come down to service level cuts,” she said.

Earlier this week, the province announced it would pay out $4 billion in emergency pandemic relief funding for municipalities.

A good portion of that will be transit-based relief.

That funding will be doled out as one-time funding in the next six to eight months.

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But the City of Kawartha Lakes still has no information on how much it will receive.

“The levels of government have not let us know what formulas they will use to get that out to municipalities.  That’s why we’re targeting $0 (for our deficit).  We’re doing what we have to do and whatever we get from the province will give us some options going forward.  We don’t know how much or what portion of that they’re willing to help us with,” added Letham.

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READ MORE: Ontario municipalities to receive up to $4 billion from province, feds to offset COVID-19 costs

When asked by Global News if getting the deficit to $0 would likely impact whether the municipality would actually receive any relief funding from upper levels of government, Letham said he didn’t think it would.

“We’re using taxpayer dollars to bail out taxpayers. This is a cycle and a circle. Who’s going to pay for this down the road and transfer payments to municipalities could suffer in the future.  Although this is a one-time payment, I think municipalities will have to find better ways to do business or deliver services. This is not a one-time fix,” he said.

“This is something we’re all going to have to work on going forward because I don’t think it’s even possible to go back to the way it was before.”

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