With the 2021 budget season coming fast and furious at local councils, COVID-19 is a concern as they plan for spending and earning in the coming year.
Despite the pandemic raising concerns about municipal revenue and increasing costs for cleaning supplies, many local centres have few budget concerns about what COVID-19 will bring into 2021.
Those involved with the 2021 budget for the City of Meadow Lake understand there will be challenges ahead, said Diana Burton, the city manager, especially on how the pandemic will impact the municipal facilities for the long term.
“We're limited with our Aquatic Center, about how many people we can have in it. So that'll affect things like public swim, and swimming in the offering of lessons, which are major revenue sources.”
There will be increased expenses in cleaning costs and how much the facilities are used will mean a fluctuation in how much the city will need. Staff will also have to be on hand to clean which may mean additional costs or more work for those current staff members which will also impact total expenses for the city.
With facilities opening up in the past few months, Burton said they have been able to analyze those costs and have some idea on long term expenses.
Also on the city’s radar is property tax and quarterly utility bills. Meadow Lake residents are facing pandemic challenges themselves and some may lose their ability to pay those bills on time. That will also have an impact on the city’s revenue flow, Burton said.
“We're trying to be as accurate as we can with what we know and then also having the understanding that there are a lot of unknowns with this and things change frequently and in pretty significant ways.”
While communities may be dealing with losses in revenue, they should also prepare for what COVID will bring to them two years down the road. Saskatchewan communities receive revenue sharing on an annual basis from the provincial government. However, the yearly sum is calculated on PST revenue received two years prior. This means that revenue sharing amounts will be good based on revenue from 2019, but two years from now, communities will be dealing with lower than normal numbers, said Gordon Barnhart, president of Municipalities of Saskatchewan. Communities need to be prepared for that, he said, but they will be lobbying the government to keep revenue sharing consistent.
“We're making an argument with the provincial government, that they continue the level of this year for the next two years to help us through this downturn due to COVID. Whether the province will accept our recommendation or advice, time will tell.”
Barnhart expects there will be issues with infrastructure spending due to COVID, however, communities will still have access to provincial and federal funding in the coming years.