City of Powell River’s chief financial officer has recommended a number of projects to be funded through the $2.9 million COVID-19 safe restart grant provided by the province.
At a special meeting of the city’s finance committee on February 8, chief financial officer Adam Langenmaier presented a recommendation that council direct staff to allocate a portion, which totals 46 per cent of the $2.9 million received, to the COVID-19 safe restart grant funding to support operations and projects in 2021. Langenmaier outlined the expenditures in a report to the finance committee.
Langenmaier’s proposal is for 15 projects, amounting to $1,339,238 of the $2.9 million.
Mayor Dave Formosa had a question about a $182,000 allocation for the term of an economic development office employee to aid in COVID-19 economic development. Langenmaier said it is for two years.
“We need to make note of the fact that it’s for two years, which I totally support,” said Formosa. “I know we need that for more than just COVID-19 issues.”
Formosa then asked about $164,000 being directed toward early payoff of the Powell River Public Library loan. He asked if that is a loan the city had been receiving help with from Powell River Community Forest, and if so, does that mean the payments are now over, so the city has some tax room.
Langenmaier said that is incorrect and he would detail the mayor later.
Formosa then asked about $180,000 for early payoff of 2019 capital purchases.
“Here’s some more paying down debt, giving us more debt serviceability, or the ability to cut back on taxes,” said Formosa. He asked what those projects were. Langenmaier said he would also get that information back to the mayor.
Formosa then asked about the housing strategy, which is to pay the city’s portion of the housing strategy special project.
“I understand we have three housing projects, not including the one near the hospital,” said Formosa. “We have three fairly large housing projects approved and moving forward for folks who may be needing affordable housing. What is the strategy for? Are we looking to build even more affordable housing projects? What are we committed to with the $41,300?”
Chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said councillors might recall a presentation from regional social planner Kai Okazaki about a project going forward for the next couple of years, which is a follow-up to the housing needs assessment coordinated in the qathet region. Formosa said he was happy with that answer.
Formosa then asked about a $40,000 allocation toward engineering design and costing to create a grant application for an active transportation project.
Brewer said it is a follow-up to the city’s recently adopted parks and trails strategy, which identified several items, and active transportation is one of them.
The mayor then questioned the $25,000 allocation to bicycle counters to be placed on key cycling routes to collect data on cycling volume, wondering if this was an effective expenditure.
Formosa asked about the largest proposed expenditure, which is $520,410 for the operating budget prior year surplus draw. He said money could be put into surplus, or used to buy down taxes. Formosa said the city’s general surplus in 2019 was at $3.9 million, so that surplus is growing nicely. He asked Langenmaier if the 2020 operating surplus is unknown at this time. Langenmaier said that is correct.
Committee chair councillor George Doubt said every one of the items that totals up to $1.3 million on the recommended use of COVID-19 funds would otherwise be paid for through taxation. He said everything paid for under the COVID-19 funds would serve to reduce pressure on taxation.
He said he believed the $520,410 of funds to use for the 2021 tax expenditures is not to create a surplus but to go into the balanced budget the committee has been talking about.
“It leaves, which I think is a wise thing to do, $1.5 million to see what happens over the next year,” said Doubt. “I don’t think any one of us knows exactly what has happened economically over the last year and what will be needed when we come to this same time next year. Having a cushion we could fall back on is a good idea.
“Every one of the items on this list is something that would otherwise be paid for by taxation or grants. I’d be prepared to okay this list.”
Councillor Cindy Elliott said she supported Doubt’s comments about the future. She said the pandemic is not over and council does not know what is happening in the coming year. She said she’d like to see help in future with child care, which has an urgent need for attention.
Elliott said poverty reduction is also an important consideration because COVID-19 has impacted those in the lower income brackets the highest. She’d also like to prioritize low-cost transportation, and access to city-owned facilities.
Councillor Jim Palm said he’d eliminate the bike counter and didn’t think that would be well received by the public. He said he would like to see a portion of the $520,410 to be allocated toward reducing taxation.
Councill Maggie Hathaway said as a comment, she wanted to point out there was nothing in the expenditures about paving.
Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman thanked Langenmaier and Brewer for putting together a great list. She said she also wanted to bring clarity to the bicycle counters. She said it is to provide city planners and the engineering department with reliable data on cycling. She said it is a key piece in designing for safer cycling.
Formosa pointed out that not all of the projects identified in Langenmaier’s summary had been approved by council.
“I just wanted to make it clear,” said Formosa.
Langenmaier said all projects identified in the list are in the city’s five-year plan.
The finance committee unanimously approved a motion to allocate the portion of the COVID-19 grant for support of operations and projects in 2021 as outlined in Langenmaier’s report. Corporate officer Chris Jackson said it will be referred to city council, so council will ultimately be responsible for the decision.