Businesses, municipalities will need help to stay afloat

MINTO – Local businesses are holding on through the COVID-19 lock-down, but both businesses and municipalities are going to need some help to stay afloat, according to town officials.

During the April 21 council meeting held by teleconference, councillor Ron Elliott noted that since restrictions began, one Palmerston restaurant (Grampa Scotts Eating Spot) has indicated it will not be re-opening. He asked economic development manager Belinda Wick-Graham if she had heard of others.

“That’s the only one we’ve heard of so far,” said Wick-Graham, adding the economic development department is “reaching out to tons of businesses proactively, making sure they know about what’s available (for assistance.)”

She noted the Economic Development Council of Ontario has been lobbying for a commercial rent assistance program like the joint-federal provincial effort announced on April 24.

“That’s something that’ we’ve been hearing loud and clear and advocating for, so we’re happy that’s moving forward.”

However, Wick-Graham added, “One of the things that we’re finding is businesses aren’t qualifying for the emergency (wage subsidy) loan from the (federal) government.

Even though they lowered the payroll from $50,000 to $20,000 a lot of new businesses still don’t have a $20,000 payroll so they’re falling thought the cracks.”

In response, Wick-Graham said the province has announced plans for a $275 million fund that will be administered through Community Futures Development Corporations “to go to those businesses.”  However, she noted, details of the program are yet to be announced.

“The CFDC’s still don’t know what that looks like yet, so were still waiting for that information,” Wick-Graham stated.

“So it looks like they’re going to get some help somewhere?” asked Elliott.

“Hopefully,” Wick-Graham replied.

Mayor George Bridge noted some local businesses have received low-interest loans through Wellington County’s Keep Well – Emergency Business Sustainability Fund.

Bridge said with the deadline pending on April 23, about $850,000 of the $1 million fund had been allocated through Wellington-Waterloo Community Futures and the Saugeen Economic Development Corporation. About $187,000 of that went to 12 businesses in northern Wellington, the mayor added.

Bridge said he hopes some of the newly-announced provincial funding will provide grants, rather than loans, to struggling businesses.

“Some businesses may not be able to stay alive if they have to borrow the whole amount,” he pointed out.

Economic development departments at both the county and local municipal level are working on strategies to help businesses after re-opening, said Bridge.

“We’re going to have to set up a program, or figure out what we’d be able to do, to help businesses once it’s over, once we get to the opening up stage,” he stated.

Such a program could take the form of an expanded Community Improvement Program, he suggested.

“There’s lots of work to be done, but I think we’ll keep our eye on the ball,” Bridge stated.

Municipal revenue

Elliott also asked treasurer Gordon Duff if the municipality’s tax revenue had been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis so far.

“As of the end of March things look pretty good,” said Duff, noting that 89 per cent of taxes due had been collected to that point.

However, he added, “that’s only about a week’s impact” from the crisis and normally tax collections would be around 100 per cent by March 30.

Duff said he is working on a report for next meeting that will reflect potential future revenue loss.

“That’s where the potential loss is,” he stated. “And of course it all depends on how long we’re shut down and no one knows that answer.”

Duff said Minto would take advantage “of what’s out there” in terms of aid to municipalities, “but there isn’t a heck of a lot so far.”

He noted the province has deferred payment of the education tax allotment due at the end of June, “but that just means a double payment in December.”

Bridge said the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario are lobbying both upper tiers of government for aid to municipalities.

“We’re pushing very hard for them to realize that we’re going to need some cash infusion at the municipal level because we can’t run deficits,” Bridge stated.

“I really appreciate that, because I think that there’s going to have to be a bit of a political solution in the next little while,” said Duff.