Ashcroft, Cache Creek, and Clinton are all trying to decide what to do with an unexpected funding announcement, after the villages learned that they would be receiving funding under the provincial COVID-19 Safe Restart Grants for Local Governments program.
Ashcroft will be receiving $659,000, Cache Creek will be receiving $461,000, and Clinton will be receiving $373,000 in joint federal and provincial funding, which has been allocated based on a formula that applies to all municipalities in the province. Each of B.C.’s 188 municipalities is receiving $169,000 in flat funding, plus an “adjusted per capita” amount. This ensures that while larger municipalities receive more money than smaller ones, smaller municipalities receive higher per capita funding, to compensate for the fact that they often lack a diverse tax base.
The funding is intended to help support local governments as they deal with increased operating costs and lower revenues as a result of COVID-19. The list of eligible costs the funding can be used for includes revenue shortfalls; facility reopening and operating costs; emergency planning and response costs; bylaw enforcement and protective services; and computer and other technology costs, to improve interconnectivity and virtual communications.
The chief administrative officers (CAOs) of all three villages say that while they had heard earlier this fall about funding for local governments, the announcement on Nov. 2 with funding details came out of the blue.
“We didn’t know the funding was on the way until we got the circular,” says Cache Creek CAO Martin Dalsin. “It was very much of a surprise to us.”
Noting that there is some dissatisfaction from larger municipalities about how the funding has been divided up, Dalsin says that Cache Creek is not dissatisfied, but is somewhat leery of spending any of the funds until they know that the division is okay and will not be challenged. He also notes that they are waiting to see if more specific guidelines about spending the money come through. “We don’t want to spend the money and then find out it’s not an eligible expense.”
He adds that council has talked very generally about several ways the money could be spent, but wants to see more details. Looking at the impacts of COVID-19 on Cache Creek, he says that the primary loss of revenue has been rental of the community hall, and also mentions the fact that bylaw enforcement is specifically mentioned in the funding notice. Cache Creek, Ashcroft, and Clinton have all agreed to hire a joint bylaw enforcement officer.
Another item Cache Creek council has been discussing is enlarging the council chamber.
“Right now we can’t allow people to attend in person at council meetings, because we don’t have the space, so we’ve been batting around the idea of enlarging the council chamber, and setting it up so it’s more Internet-meeting-friendly, with larger TV screens that can hook up to the Internet and have people participate that way.
“It’s an idea we’ve been tossing back and forth for a while. If we did it we would lose office space, so we’d have to allow for moving the offices that would be impacted, and there would have to be some changes around the entrance. We’re also hoping to use the money to put together an Emergency Operations Centre where we can more properly physically distance, put barriers between work spaces. There are lots of ways we could spend the money, but we need to get ideas, get costs, and prioritize.”
“It was a surprise payment,” says Clinton CAO Murray Daly. “We knew about an announcement made before UBCM [in September] about some grant funding, but we were surprised to get it without applying for it. It just kind of arrived, and it was pretty nice to have this drop in our lap.”
Daly says that the guidelines seem pretty open-ended as to what the funding can be used for, but he will be contacting the Province for more specific details.
“We need to report on what we spend it on, so we need to know that we spend it appropriately before we spend it.”
He adds that there are a few ideas floating around about what the village might use the funding for.
“It will go to council and we’ll start brainstorming, generate some ideas, see what they want to use it on. Revenue shortfall is mentioned, and computer/electronic costs are covered, so we could improve our connectivity.”
Daly says that facility reopening is another possibility.
“The closure of the Chasm mill had a major impact on our economy, and small businesses have been hit. The museum didn’t open this summer, so that’s a major impact. It means that tourists don’t stop at restaurants and businesses, and a lot of our businesses are operating at limited capacity. We want people to stop and spend more time in the area.”
Ashcroft CAO Daniela Dyck says that while she, too, has been asking if more criteria for the funding is coming down the pipe, the consensus among other CAOs she has spoken with is that it is an unconditional grant. “The assumption right now is that there won’t be a lot of criteria, as long as it fits in the boundaries in the initial letter: bylaws, restart, budget shortfalls.”
She notes that while there had been a few rumblings about funding, only the City of Vancouver seems to have had an inkling about what was on the way.
“We were very pleasantly surprised when the email came in saying we had the money.”
Dyck says that Ashcroft will definitely be looking at using some of the funding for economic development. “It can serve some of our projects because they pertain to restarting the economy, and there is also bylaw support funding. There will definitely be a discussion at the budget table about it.”
She says that while many communities have really struggled through COVID-19, Ashcroft has done well thanks to the stewardship of Chief Financial Officer Yogi Bhalla.
“We lost some revenue from the pool, and anticipate losing some from the arena, but we’ve also cut our expenses: the pool wasn’t open as long as usual, and there aren’t as many staff hours in the arena, so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out in the end. There’s no timeline as to when this has to be spent by, so it gives us the freedom to explore what our options might be and plan for the future.”