Norfolk and Haldimand counties have learned what they will be receiving from a $19-billion COVID-19 funding program announced by the federal government several weeks ago.
Of Ontario’s $7-billion share, $4 billion has been earmarked for municipal relief. Of this, $3.7 million has been allocated to Norfolk. Haldimand’s share totals $2.5 million.
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The relief package was put together to address the extraordinary costs Canadian municipalities have incurred since the pandemic emergency was declared in mid-March. At a recent meeting of Norfolk council, CAO Jason Burgess said these costs locally this year could be as high as $4 million.
“Those dollars would definitely mitigate the impact of our expenditures from COVID-19,” Simcoe Coun. Ian Rabbitts, chair of Norfolk’s budget committee, said in response to the Aug. 12 announcement.
“That $4 million is an estimate and that number is accumulating. That $3.7 million would be a good hit on that. But we’ll still be operating at a deficit. We’ll have to find that money somewhere.”
Areas where Norfolk has incurred unbudgeted expenses since the pandemic emergency was declared include additional personal protective equipment for staff at Norview Lodge and at the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit and labour costs associated with the re-assignment of county staff to public-health duties. The latter includes the creation of sanitation crews and additional staffing in the bylaw enforcement division.
Norfolk County has also spent an estimated $250,000 setting up and maintaining a temporary infirmary – as yet unused – at the Port Dover and Area Arena.
“I imagine these costs will increase,” Rabbitts said. “COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere soon. It’s the new normal.”
The pandemic shutdown has disrupted the delivery of municipal services while forcing municipalities to incur unbudgeted expenses in the areas of public health. The pandemic has also thrown millions of Canadians out of work, an event that promises to impact households’ ability to pay their property taxes.
For his part, Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt is withholding comment until senior staff updates him on COVID-19 expenditures to this point.
“I can’t say for certain whether that’s good, bad or ugly,” Hewitt said of the $2.5 million. “Whatever expenses we’ve incurred should be covered 100 per cent. Haldimand and Norfolk are joined at the hip on this (by way of the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit) so the funding should be the same for both.”
In a news release, local MPP Toby Barrett says the Safe Restart Agreement gives municipalities “the support and flexibility they need to protect the health and well-being of their communities while continuing to deliver critical public services as the province continues on the path of renewal, growth and economic recovery.”
Funding in Ontario has been allocated on a per-household basis. Phase One in the amount of $695 million will be rolled out to the province’s 444 municipalities in September.
An additional $695 million will be available in Phase Two “for municipalities that have COVID-related financial impacts that exceed the initial per household allocation provided under Phase One,” the release from Barrett’s office says.
Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp said the two-phase rollout is all well and good provided controls are in place to ensure it doesn’t compensate municipalities that responded inappropriately to the pandemic while penalizing those that did.
In Norfolk’s case, council and staff resorted to painful closures and layoffs to meet the financial challenges of the shutdown as a means of relieving pressure on the county treasury. Other municipalities may have attempted to carry on business-as-usual and Chopp doesn’t believe they should be rewarded for that.
In addition to the $4 billion municipal package, the Ford government is providing another $212 million to health and social service departments across Ontario to enhance pandemic protection for homeless shelter staff and residents, to expand rent-support programs, and for the formulation of long-term housing strategies designed to tackle chronic homelessness.