Editorial: COVID budgeting

By Jenn Watt

When it comes to the bottom line it seems the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t had the kind of impact one might expect on municipal budgets – at least not for the county and Municipality of Dysart et al which recently reviewed the immediate financial effects of COVID-19.

Some income streams have taken a hit for example the loss of $126000 in ice rental revenues for 2020 or an estimated $50000 from parking gate revenue at the medical centre. And some expenses are up – at the Dysart  meeting last week it was noted wages and benefits have increased $18700 for cleaning of the arena which is tentatively planned to open in the fall.
Likewise the county staff report that cleaning budgets are up as are expenses related to technology necessary for moving meetings from physical spaces to online ones.

However where costs have gone up in some areas they’ve come dramatically down in others. Councillors no longer need to drive to their meetings or to conferences saving travel and associated expenses in the neighbourhood of $10000 in Dysart alone. Hydro costs for the arena are down by $25000.
And then there are deferrals of 2020 projects such as the implementation of the shoreline protection bylaw at the county level and sidewalk construction at York and Highland Street in Haliburton.
In the end it means a relatively small deficit for Dysart et al and county council heard that 48 per cent of its budget has been spent about halfway through the year.
While this is definitely a relief one wonders what kinds of pressures the coronavirus will impose in 2021 – not just in new future costs but in projects deferred. Certainly some items can simply be set aside and picked back up when times are more certain and safety is better assured but our positive financial reports in 2020 may not necessarily mean smooth sailing in the year ahead.

Elected representatives will be faced with similar challenges as they move forward with cleaning costs and staffing necessarily increased and user fees down as physical distancing measures restrict how many people can enter buildings or access services.
As with everything related to this pandemic there’s no way to effectively plan for the future. Each step must be taken cautiously and plans are bound to be rewritten a few times before this all is over. What that means for council budgets – and tax levies – in the years to come is still anyone’s guess.