Fort St. John budget under review

Fort St. John councillors ordered Monday a review of the operating budget for the next four years and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the city's bottom line.

Council stopped short of immediately implementing a number of relief measures that have been proposed for residents and businesses, as a number of provincial and federal relief programs are expected to start rolling out soon. The city's operating budget for 2020 to 2024 is under review in the interim.

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"A lot of municipalities are looking to see what these aid packages are for our businesses and residents as they come through," Mayor Lori Ackerman said. "I know staff have already put their mind to this. I appreciate that a lot, and I look forward to something coming."

David Joy, the city’s general manager for corporate services, has proposed four relief measures, key among them cancelling the approved 1.25% tax rate hike, and deferring tax and utility payments and waiving late fees.

Those two measures alone would mean up to $1.04 million of relief through the year, and represent the bulk of the proposed $1.3 million package of options.

Joy has also suggested eliminating business licence fees this year, a relief of $240,000, and relieving concession stand leases at the now-closed pool and Pomeroy Sport Centre, which would range between $18,500 and $55,500 depending on how long the pandemic lasts.

Though core city services are still operating, the city has significantly cut its operations, and laid off 88 workers last week because of facility closures.

Those closures have significantly cut revenues and expenses, Joy wrote in a report to council.

“We do have the ability to financially respond in a measured way to avoid an operating deficit while at the same time providing financial relief to residents and businesses," Joy said.

"It is unknown at this time as to how long the pandemic will last along with the orders to self isolate, physical distance and work from home."

The pandemic is forecast to drop city revenues and expenses by $2 million in the next three months, and up to $6.5 million if it persists until the end of the year.

Joy said the city could use up to one-third of its contingency reserve for extraordinary events to help float the budget without compromising the city’s financial position. The reserve can be topped up from surpluses in future years, he said.

The provincial government has cut school tax rates by 50% this year for Class 4, 5, and 6 commercial properties.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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