City of Powell River councillors were advised on the city’s finances and received an outline of the effect of COVID-19 on the budget.
Chief financial officer Adam Langenmaier, in presenting his monthly financial report to the October 22 finance committee meeting, said he wanted to bring council up to date on property taxes.
“I’m happy to report that as of September 30, we have collected 96.8 per cent of all of our property taxes,” said Langenmaier.
This year, because of COVID-19, the municipal property tax deadline was extended from July 2, when it is normally due, to September 30, when taxpayers would face a five per cent penalty on unpaid taxes. There is another deadline in mid-December, where unpaid taxes will be assessed another five per cent.
“As it stands, we’re in a similar place to prior years, which is a very good thing to see,” said Langenmaier.
He then reviewed city fees and charges. He said the planning department was going strong, due to building activity in the city. Money collected is 120 per cent of what was budgeted. Langenmaier said airport revenues were causing a negative impact; the city is at 42 per cent of where it should be. He said the harbour had a bit of a comeback through the summer season and was sitting at 81 per cent of normal collection. Transit, said Langenmaier, is at 44 per cent of where it should be.
“We’ll likely see a recovery with transit going back to full service and school starting up again,” said Langenmaier.
Recreation, he said, has taken a significant hit, at 45 per cent of budget. Langenmaier said the total annual budget was $1,264,000 so the city is out $517,692.
Willingdon Beach Campground, however, is at 91 per cent of where the city would expect to be in a non-COVID-19 year.
“This number has surpassed the director of parks, recreation and culture’s recommendation,” said Langenmaier. He said snowbirds cannot go to the United States anymore so they are heading to the warmer parts of BC for the winter.
“We are positioned to provide a service that we wouldn’t normally see,” said Langenmaier.
Regarding expenses, wages are the majority of the city expenses, and this year, the city is sitting at an 86 per cent utilization of wages.
“We are below spending targets for wages,” said Langenmaier. “This is due to some positions that weren’t filled through the COVID-19 turmoil and the recreation complex not having some of the part-timers to operate the pool and other facilities.”
Other expenses are sitting at 67 per cent of the budgeted amount. Langenmaier said this is due to the choices council made to defer all unnecessary training and there is no travel being incurred right now, so there are significant savings. He said in future, there may be more savings with virtual gatherings rather than city representatives attending functions such as conventions.
“It is not expensive to attend training,” said Langenmaier. “It is expensive to travel and stay for training. That has been a frustration for remote communities.”
Langenmaier said he wanted to outline the city’s cash position. He said the city is in a good position right now to carry its operating expenses through until next tax season.
“We have more cash on hand than we’ve ever had and a lot of it is tied up with grants and specific projects,” said Langenmaier. “The actual cash that is available for operations is $13 million and the normal spend is about $1.5 to $2 million per month. That has been slightly reduced due to COVID-19.
“All in all, we are in a reasonable position.”
Councillor Jim Palm said he had a tour of Powell River Recreation Complex, including the pool facility, which hopefully will be open mid-November. He said that is going to get people back into the building, but there is only one sheet of ice, and costs have been reduced by not having a second sheet. That area is being used for other programming, said Palm.
The upper level of the recreation complex is shut down because of COVID-19 and the clinic occupying the upper level, so that also further reduces costs, added Palm.
“In the end, as we gradually get back to what we can provide because of COVID-19 – reduced levels because of reduced staffing – we should be getting back to normal down the road but not immediately,” said Palm.
Councillor George Doubt, chair of the finance committee, said in fees and charges, there will be a decrease in revenue this year and as long as the city manages its expenses, the city should come out somewhere near its balance.
“That’s the best we could hope for in these times and I think that’s good management; staff have done a good job of that,” said Doubt. “I wanted to comment on wages. It looks like one of the major savings in our budget is wages, which is about $2 million. It’s important to remember that $2 million is also $2 million that is not circulating and is not being used over and over again in the community.
“That has a human cost for people who aren’t working right now and to the small businesses in the community that don’t have the kind of market base that they would otherwise.”
Doubt said it’s nice to see the savings but it doesn’t come without impact to people in the community.
“Otherwise, I think we’re doing good so far during COVID-19,” he added.