Merrickville-Wolford council received a report last week, updating them on the municipality’s financials, taking into consideration the impact of COVID-19. The report gave a detailed overview of all the municipal departments and how they are measuring up, as compared to budgeted expenses and revenues. Most items were either on target or under budget, with some loss of revenue, mostly due to COVID-19. The only item that was significantly over budget was planning expenses, which is sitting at 127% of the budgeted amount. However, the report outlines that most of this money is recoverable through professional services agreements with developers, and is reflected in planning revenue, which is at 98%. To date, the Village has collected approximately 86% of the current year’s taxes, compared to 89% in 2019.
The report also outlined the direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the municipality’s finances. When the state of emergency was declared by the province on March 17, council decided to roll back the tax increase from 3.13% to 0.44% and waive all late fees regarding water and wastewater bill payments until the end of July. Council also directed staff to apply residential water rates to most commercial utility ratepayers, to help relieve some financial burden from businesses which were not able to operate due to the pandemic. The municipality has been unable to rent out municipal facilities, which has added to the decrease in revenue. In total, the relief initiatives and the closure of municipal facilities have resulted in a financial loss of $119,408, as of September 30.
The municipality has also incurred some expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes social distancing signs and supplies, postage for Village COVID-19 drop mailings, Bell Conferencing to allow group phone conversations instead of face to face meetings, public washroom cleaning during the summer tourist season, and technology to allow staff to work remotely from home. Total COVID-19 expenses were sitting at $19,338 as of September 30. The report projected an increased loss of revenue of $7710 from October 1 to December 31, due to the lower commercial water and wastewater rates.
COVID-19 has also provided some cost savings to the municipality, mainly from the closure of municipal facilities, the cancellation of staff training and workshops, the cancellation of Canada Day, and municipal grants that were not handed out this year. To date, the Village has saved approximately $50,212 due to the pandemic.
As part of the provincial-federal Safe Restart Agreement, the municipality will be receiving $85,300. With this funding, and the Village’s own savings, the municipality will have a total of $135,512 to cover COVID-19 related costs and revenue losses. Total costs are sitting at $138,746, leaving only $3,234 in unbudgeted COVID-19 expenses. This, along with the fact that the municipality is expecting a surplus at the end of the year, means that the Village likely won’t qualify for the additional COVID-19 funding that was announced by the province on October 1.
Village Treasurer, Kirsten Rahm, told council that, compared to other municipalities, they have fared quite well through COVID-19. “We don’t have a lot of revenue losses compared to others,” she said. “We don’t have transit, we don’t make a lot on our recreation facilities to begin with, and we don’t have any indoor ice pads sitting empty whereby we can’t rent space. So far things are looking OK.”
Mayor Struthers thanked Kirsten for a well laid out report. “It goes back to the comment that our auditor made earlier this year: that our staff manage the finances of the municipality very well,” he said.