B.C. cities are scrambling to pay for pandemic costs as they lose millions in revenue
VANCOUVER -- Cities across Metro Vancouver are scrambling to find a way to make up for lost revenue and pay for essential services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Municipalities are sandwiched between the high costs of managing the emergency, and provincial laws that bar them from borrowing money without special permission.
Cities need the provincial government to provide some breathing room so they don’t have to consider cutting essential services, says Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle.
“Local government budgets are getting hit really hard by this crisis,” Boyle said Friday.
“These are significant services that people love and rely on that they need now, like garbage pickup and fire protection, as well as the services that we want to get back up and running when this crisis ends,” she said.
A lot of city revenue is on hold during the pandemic, with only about 25% of parking revenue being collected, 5% of bylaw fines, and none of recreation centre revenue, gaming revenue, or library fines. The city has laid off some 1500 workers.
A report to Vancouver City Council makes a grim tally of the estimated total cost in three separate scenarios.
In the first scenario, the physical distancing restrictions are lifted and everything is able to open by May 31. In that case, the city would lose $61 million.
In a scenario where restrictions are lifted in August, the city would be hit with a loss of $111 million dollars.
And if restrictions are lifted in December, that amount rises to $189 million dollars.
The City of Surrey hasn’t yet published its forecasts. It’s expected that every local government will have to deal with a financial shortfall to some degree.
Complicating things is that according to the Local Government Act and the Vancouver Charter, local governments can’t run a budget deficit without special approval from voters or from the province.
That means the city can’t legally find a way to pay these bills without help, she said.
The city report also outlines other measures, including delaying remittance of taxes to other governments.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart asked the province for $200 million dollars on Wednesday.
During a news briefing that afternoon, Premier John Horgan said the province is working on it.
“We haven’t got a plan in place today, but it’s obviously front and centre, not just on the individuals who owe the taxes, but to those municipalities that depend on those taxes to provide the services that we all come to expect,” he said.