Council designates Safe Restart funds to cover past, pending pandemic expenses

MINTO – Council here has approved a plan to utilize just under $140,000 in federal/provincial Safe Restart Agreement funds to cover pandemic-related operational expenses from 2020, leaving about $125,000 in reserve for 2021.

Treasurer Gordon Duff outlined the plan to Minto council on March 16.

The Town of Minto received $289,600 under the Safe Restart Agreement, one of several upper-tier support programs designed to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on municipal finances.

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

Duff told council “the main thing is it’s got to be COVID response and on the operating side. So we can’t go build a new facility or something like that,” he told council.

Minto’s direct expenses in response to pandemic challenges include $51,935 for personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies; $25,297 to support remote working and virtual meetings; $8,299 in building renovations, workspaces and public places; and $16,573 for equipment to improve sanitation and admission controls in public facilities and for the fire department.

In addition, the report proposes $27,250 be set aside for refunds to support community facility user groups and to cover $34,679 in lost facility bookings in the spring of 2020.

The remainder, $125,567, is earmarked for 2021 COVID-19 related expenditures, of which $17,500 has been allocated for support of local non-profit cultural organizations.

“The town will also receive approximately $154,000 in provincial COVID recovery operating funding later in 2021,” Duff notes in the report.

“About a year ago, we didn’t know what we had to do,” said Duff.

“Primarily we had to set ourselves up to work remotely and hold meetings like that, so that was our first priority.

“And then, as we gradually allowed the public and staff to return to our facilities, we had to ensure everyone’s safety,” which involved obtaining and distributing PPE and installing plexiglass barriers and other safety measures in municipal buildings.

Duff pointed out that for small municipalities, the problem was “not so much the extra expenses, it’s the lack of revenue … in a lot of our community facilities. So we took a hit on that.

“And also I think council and staff, we kind of made the commitment we want our non-profits and our volunteers to survive,” Duff said, explaining the rationale behind the $17,500 allotment for non-profit and cultural support.

He noted staff felt some of the funds should be carried forward to deal with ongoing operational issues in 2021.

“We’re going to keep our powder dry for various relief programs. I think it’s going to be not so much physical things, it’s going to be supporting our community,” he explained.

Mayor George Bridge credited the provincial government for its efforts to assist municipalities financially.

“I really appreciate the province,” said Bridge. “The province came up with this extra money …  hoping that the federal government will see this as an opportunity to put more funds in as well.”

Bridge added, “Some provinces haven’t stepped up to the plate at all. They’ve just taken the federal money, or the federal money’s come to them. They haven’t matched the proceeds and we’re lucky in Ontario that that’s what they’ve been doing.

“I’m hopeful there may be more money coming down the road and …I know at the county level they got almost another million … and were looking at places we can do something for businesses that are struggling.”

He concluded, “Hopefully we will continue at both the county and the local level to get this money out to where it’s needed. And certainly it has allowed us to balance our budgets as well, but still allow us to do some really good solid work on the ground.”

Council unanimously passed a motion to receive the Safe Restart Agreement allocations report and directed staff to designate funding to 2020 eligible expenses and transfer the remaining balance to reserves for use in 2021.

Councillor Geoff Gunson was not present.