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How decisions made years ago are helping the Sault weather COVID-19

Decades of steering away from things like municipally owned golf courses are paying off big-time in Sault Ste. Marie's pandemic recovery
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The fiscal impact of COVID-19 on the City of Sault Ste. Marie is projected to reach $1.3 million by the end of August, members of the city's finance committee were told Wednesday.

But Sault Ste. Marie is faring better than many communities because of decisions dating back years – even decades – that steered us away from non-essential municipal services, said chief administrative officer Malcolm White.

"We do seem to be tracking much better than most municipalities," White told the teleconferenced committee meeting.

"This council and councils in the past have made difficult decisions regarding service delivery. Things like operating day cares, operating ancilliary-type facilities like municipal golf courses or campgrounds."

"These are all decisions in the past that have left us well positioned to handle something like this."

White also cited the city's 1998 decision to hand over control of our municipal airport to Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corp.

"We aren't operating things that aren't focused municipal operations. We also don't operate full-service recreational facilities. That's a philosophical choice that was taken many, many years ago, and has led to the existence of a strong YMCA offering those types of services, rather than us trying to operate full-service fitness facilities."

"We are reaping the benefits of that type of approach," White said.

Jacob Bruzas, the city's manager of finance, said he's unable to predict the pandemic's effect on the city through to the end of 2020, but expressed optimism in the Sault's ability to weather the crisis.

"The tax stabilization reserve has a balance of approximately $2.8 million to assist with managing any deficit position without impacting the 2021 tax levy," Bruzas said.

Bruzas pointed out that Saultites seem to be going to the dump more during this pandemic.

"Landfill revenue is tracking above historical trends for the first six months of the fiscal year. This does not have an impact on the operating budget, but will however result in a positive impact on the reserve balance," he said.

"One of the most significant financial impacts has been in the area of transit. Transit operations resumed front-door entry and charging regular fare as of July 13, 2020. However, transit revenue has declined by approximately $500,000 through August 31, 2020," Bruzas told the committee.

Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour expressed satisfaction with the new financial figures, pointing out that COVID's $1.3 million impact on the city so far adds up to just 1.3 per cent of the levy.