The City of Yellowknife is keeping its “fingers crossed” that Ottawa will remain in a generous mood when it comes time to fill major revenue losses incurred during the Covid-19 crisis.

City councillor Steve Payne asked senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett during Monday’s regular council meeting if the municipality was seeking assistance.

“We’re going to be having hardly any revenue when it comes to our facilities (so) are we able to get funding from the GNWT or the feds to sort of come in and, help us out a bit with this?” he asked.

User fees for everything from dump charges, parking fees and passes for city facilities such as the Multiplex and Fieldhouse represent nearly a third of the city’s annual revenue at $25 million. The city began shutting down services and facilities March 17 as fear of the Covid-19 pandemic began to take hold.

Several municipalities in Canada have been laying off scores of workers in recent weeks, including the City of Edmonton, which laid off 900 staff April 27 as Covid restrictions led to the widespread shut down of services and facilities. The City of Yellowknife has 214 full-time staff, all of whom remain on the payroll.

Image sourced from the 2020 Budget document shows that the city had been budgeting more than 25 million in user charges.

Bassi-Kellett said the city has provided the territorial government with estimates of lost revenue since the pandemic hit, as well as additional expenses the city has had to incur.

“We provided an overall summary to (the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs), making the case that we are in good shape because of prudent management, but that this isn’t gonna last forever and so we do really look forward to some support from them,” she said, explaining that MACA would then make the case for financial relief to Ottawa.

While the city has maintained in recent weeks that its fiscal picture is much better than many municipalities in southern Canada, Bassi-Kellett said Yellowknife also wants to make the point that its revenues have suffered.

Last month, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called for at least $10 billion in emergency funding.  

Also in April, Fort Smith Mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley, who is president of the NWT Association of Communities, was one of two mayors across the country to speak to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance asking for direct funding to municipalities. 

Mayor Rebecca Alty told NNSL Media on Tuesday the city’s worst case scenario has the city losing $4.3 million in user fee revenue by  Jan. 1.

“On the low we would anticipate $1.9 million in lost revenue and on the high end $4.3 million in lost revenue,” said Alty.

“Conservatively, we should be looking at the higher end (losses) because yes, some stuff could be open on July 1 but it would be a fraction of what of what the full service would’ve been.”

When asked about the massive layoffs taking place in some cities down south, Alty said much of that is the result of transit services being shut down.

“A lot of the major cities it is their transit systems that are causing those really big deficits,” said Alty. “So our transit is not nearly as large as Vancouver or Toronto’s that are losing millions a week on those.”

Bassi-Kellett, meanwhile, told council Monday that even if they can reopen some facilities it might not make economic sense to do so.

“We need to consider the financial implications of reopening and so while we know that people are very, very excited to be able to access the arenas, the swimming pool, and some other facilities that we have as well, we’re going to need to really think about how we ensure that we can open up, respecting the numbers, the capacity limits that have been set by the chief public health officer in a way that’s going to make sense with the operating costs,” she said.

“So if we’re only able to have 10 people in the swimming pool, for example, we’ll need to think long and hard as to whether or not it makes financial sense to open with that kind of number capacity.”

 

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University...

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