Council approves plan for spending remaining recovery, modernization funding

MINTO – Town council has approved a staff report outlining spending plans for about $350,000 in provincial and federal funds remaining from various programs.

Upper levels of government provided several support programs to recognize the impact of COVID-19 on municipal finances, notes a report from treasurer Gordon Duff presented to council on July 13.

The Town of Minto received $289,600 under the Safe Restart Agreement, provided jointly by the federal and provincial governments.

A further $154,603 will be provided by the province in 2021 under the COVID-19 Recovery Funding program.

“The use of these funds continues to be flexible and allocations are to be made according to council priorities,” states Duff in the report.

Municipal Modernization funds of $591,214, aimed at improving efficiency of municipal operations, were received from the province in March of 2019.

The report indicates $190,733 of the $444,203 in Safe Restart/COVID Recovery funds have been spent or allocated.

This includes approximately $60,000 for personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies, $26,400 to support remote working and virtual meetings, $8,300 for minor renovations to buildings, workspaces and public places such as splashguards, temporary walls and touchless plumbing fixtures, and $16,600 for equipment to improve sanitation and admission controls in public facilities such as thermometers and fumigation sprayers.

The funds have also been used to compensate for $34,700 in lost revenue in 2020. In addition, $44,750 has been allocated to support user groups and non-profit community organizations.

Duff notes about $253,500 in Safe Restart/COVID Recovery funds remain unallocated.

Uses suggested by council committees and staff for the balance include:

  • $100,000 in economic support to the local business community and high consumption water users;
  • $50,000 in trail enhancements and $28,500 to enhance a safe public gathering place at Clifford Celebration Square;
  • $30,000 to implement water recirculation for the splash pad in Palmerston;
  • $25,000 to install more touch-free fixtures in municipal facilities; and
  • $20,000 for public water filling stations.

Duff said he anticipates increased use of touchless fixtures is “going to be a lasting impact of the pandemic.”

“It’s going to be more sanitary if we can do more cases where you don’t have to turn on the lights, where you don’t have to fiddle with the tap and so we’re allocating another $25,000 for that,” he explained.

The report notes $261,000 of the Municipal Modernization funding was spent in 2020 on a county-wide consultation project, internal staff reorganizations and high priority projects identified in the budget, leaving $330,000 for future spending.

For 2021, staff proposes using a portion of the remaining funds as follows:

  • $35,000 for fire department operations software;
  • $60,000 for improved budgetary software include full multi-year budgeting;
  • $75,000 to further implement GIS and asset management integration and asset stewardship;
  • $20,000 for enhanced meeting equipment; and
  • $40,000 for a review of financial/enterprise software.

“If these projects proceed as outlined, there will still be $100,000 to allocate to future initiatives,” the report indicates.

While an eventual switch back from video conference to in-person council meetings is anticipated, Duff said “hybrid” style meetings may be necessary for some time, meaning enhanced equipment is desirable.

“I think going forward, especially if we’re going to try and engage the public more electronically, I think we could do with better microphones and better facilities for that,” Duff commented.

Councillor Mark MacKenzie asked if council would have final say on allocation of the portion of funding dedicated to non-profit community groups.

“Who gets the say on that? Does that come back to council or who is going to allocate that money?” he wondered.

Duff noted some of the funds allocated so far have gone toward “financial forgiveness” to groups like Minto Minor Hockey or local figure skating and broomball associations.

“They’re dependent on fees, fees that come from parents primarily. And if they’re not delivering the service they don’t pay any money yet there’s still costs,” he explained.

CAO Derrick Thomson stated, “Any requests that we get from minor sports groups or any other community group will come back to council for approval.

“So, what treasurer Duff is talking about is setting aside a pot of money to help out our community groups, and I use that term widely, community sports groups … arts and cultural groups.”

Thomson continued, “We anticipate we will get some requests for some assistance. We’ll gather those requests and we’ll bring them to council for approval.”

Mayor George Bridge said the federal and provincial funds are “a luxury” that has helped the municipality weather the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re going to put it back into a situation where we get the best bang for our buck as well and make sure that our groups are whole at the end,” said Bridge.

“And I think it’s just a great idea from both the province and the feds, bringing this money back down to the municipalities to deliver it. And without it, as you know, our budget situation wouldn’t have been nearly as solid as it is.”

The mayor added, “Let’s just pray that this is our last shutdown and that we can actually get everything going.”

A motion to receive the report and allocate the remaining funds as outlined in the report was approved unopposed.