The first week of May is past. The sun is shining and snow is melting quickly. Many residents are looking forward to warmer weather but questioning how their normal activities may be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
What the summer looks like will very much hinge on chief public health officer Kami Kandola’s phased plans to reopen the economy and provide a clearer picture for the city to plan its return to normal operations.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said this week that the City of Yellowknife has a number of serious considerations to make as public health orders involving physical distancing and shutting down businesses continue. The extent to which the economy is safe to reopen will determine the extent to which the city can move past immediate cost pressures and continue focusing on long-term projects, Alty said.
“If the chief public health officer comes out with a phased approach, that will give us a bit more of an idea on whether businesses will be up and going soon or whether we’re going to be in for a long haul – that can have that more detrimental impact to the economy and residents,” she said. “So I think over the next week or so, we’ll be able to, to understand a bit better. If you look at other provinces and who have released their phased approaches, you may not have a crystal ball, but you have a clear picture.”
Council will vote Monday on a series of fiscal models city staff have devised that offer a rough picture of what the city’s finances will look like based on three hypothetical dates.
“There (are) projections about if when it’s business as usual starting July 1, or September 1 or January 1 (2021), and the anticipated either surplus or deficit,” Alty said.
All dates assume revenue losses because there are no city recreational facilities taking in money during the pandemic, nor is there revenue from parking metres. Public transit has been free and the city is charging no interest on fees for things such as development and business permits.
If life opens up on July 1, the municipality anticipates a $1.7 million loss in revenue. Likewise, if the city opens Sept. 1 it anticipates a $2 million loss and if Jan. 1, $2.5 million.
“So at Monday’s Government Priorities Committee meeting, we will be discussing whether we want them to go with those city assumptions,” Alty said.
In those assumptions, council can consider revising the 1.63 per cent property tax increase it had passed in December before the pandemic hit or looking at no tax increase to ease the burden on taxpayers. But greater costs could come in future years, she said.
“You can do a zero percent tax rate change for 2020, but that can have impacts on future years,” she said. “So what would be the impact on future years? And is it better to do that now or to have our regular or our projected tax increase which was 1.63%? Council will be discussing that further at our next GPC which is Monday.”
Solid Waste and other facilities
Alty said she was pleased to see the solid waste facilities open on Monday with limited hours. Long traffic lineups were reported by the city to access the city’s dump service, which has been closed since March.
“We definitely had a big demand for the solid waste facility and people having a bit more time at home are in many cases doing spring cleaning and maybe starting renovations,” she said. “So there is extra garbage that people want to take. So definitely being able to open it, even though it’s limited, hours has been welcomed by the community to to relieve some of that pressure.”
Alty said in other cases with recreation facilities being shut down, it is giving the city the opportunity to catch up on maintenance projects.
“There were 2020 capital projects for the pool like the tile replacement, and so we would have had to close the pool down to do that,” she said. “So we can now take the time to do that, so that we don’t have to disrupts service later on.
“The arena is also doing a bit of an overhaul when it comes to painting and because it’s so rare that we have all this time without the public there, has been a benefit on the operations side.”