Other communities sharpen pencils, tighten belts for COVID-19

One week ago (April 14, 2020) we reported that there is no evidence to suggest that the Town of Qualicum Beach, in response to the inevitable financial hit of COVID-19, has reduced any expenditures or curtailed any service levels, or that it plans to do so in its 2020 budget. That appears to still be the case.

Readers asked some good questions, including: What are other municipalities doing – reducing costs, raiding the piggy bank (Reserves), borrowing money, or what?

The following examples show that, faced with headwinds, some of our neighbours are trimming their sails.

At its April 14, 2020 meeting, the City of Port Alberni Council, in response to COVID-19, proceeded to make a number of amendments to its Five Year Financial Plan 2020-2024 (aka 2020 Budget), a bylaw that had its first reading in January 2020.  Overall, these amendments to their plan will reduce their original proposed 4.34% property tax increase to a 1.07% tax increase to the average residential home.

The Port’s revisions include operating cost savings from curtailed parks, recreation and heritage services, as well as reduced conference/training budgets for Council and staff. Multiple capital projects were deferred indefinitely, unless and until grant funding becomes available. Not only do their expenditure reductions significantly drop their property tax rate, they also enable the City to absorb about $400,000 of new, unforeseen COVID-19 related costs.

At its April 15, 2020 meeting, the Town of Comox Council were presented three budget scenarios by their Director of Finance, Clive Freundlich, as they work to adjust their 2020 budget in light of COVID-19. We’re not sure what decisions were reached by Council, as meeting minutes are not yet available. The three scenarios presented were a barebones budget (0.0% tax increase), the original budget (5.5% tax increase), and an in-between option (2.0% tax increase).

Comox glacier

Town of Comox staff and management had met previously and removed seven million dollars of projects from the original 2020 budget, deferring these projects for consideration in future years.

According to Freundlich “The savings identified are sufficient to eliminate the previously proposed tax revenue increase of 5.52%, and eliminate the erosion of Reserves that was part of the already presented [2020] financial plan.”