City of Powell River has been pledged a $2.9 million COVID-19 safe restart grant from the provincial government.
The goal of the provincial funding is to support local governments as they deal with increased operating costs and lower revenue income due to COVID-19.
At the city’s November 26 finance committee meeting, chief financial officer Adam Langenmaier said his recommendation is that a reserve be created to hold the fund and to be distributed in a similar fashion to how community works funds are distributed by the city.
“We identify a project to spend money on and go to city council indicating this is an eligible project, let’s get approval to do it,” said Langenmaier.
He said there are almost no strings attached to the grant but there is reporting required. He said the province has been broad in stipulating what could be eligible costs.
Eligible costs include: revenue shortfalls; facility reopening and operating costs; emergency planning and response costs; bylaw enforcement and protective services; computer and technology costs; services for vulnerable persons; persons experiencing homelessness; and other related costs.
Langenmaier said one of the concerns he has is wanting to be prudent with the spending, but he doesn’t want the city to have COVID-19 funds remaining in 10 years, either.
“We do want to get it spent,” said Langenmaier.
He said his request is that the committee have a good discussion about it, that a reserve be created, and that ideas come forward.
Councillor Cindy Elliott said she would like to see the ability to cover off unexpected expenses or shortfalls due to COVID-19 because that’s the purpose of the grant. She said if the city has money left over it could maybe be directed toward a firehall or something similar.
Chief administrative officer Russell Brewer said the funds won’t just be project based. He said there are operational impacts from the pandemic, not all of which will be covered by Emergency Management BC.
Councillor Maggie Hathaway said during the earlier stages of COVID-19, Powell River Community Forest stepped up and provided grant money in the community to cover off costs for some organizations. She asked if the city is looking at repaying that money to the community forest so the funding could go out for the purposes it was meant. She said she wouldn’t be opposed to paying it back.
Mayor Dave Formosa said it wasn’t a lot of money.
“It’s a nice gesture but it wasn’t a large amount from what I remember,” said Formosa.
Committee chair councillor George Doubt said what is being discussed is putting the money in a reserve and he thinks there will be discussion about how exactly to use the funds in a way that matches the regulations for suitable projects.
The matter will go to city council on December 17.
In a report to the finance committee, Langenmaier stated that the COVID-19 safe restart grant funds will be recommended and requested for use through the next several months with an overall intention to use funds over the next 18 to 24 months.
“The impacts of these funds are yet to be determined and will play a factor in the financial planning process that is underway,” stated Langenmaier. “A combination of staff recommendations and council direction will be sought to best determine a reasonable allocation of funding as the COVID-19 situation progresses.”