The City of Sault Ste. Marie is receiving $5.4 million from the provincial and federal governments to offset expenditures and financial losses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the Safe Restart Agreement.
Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano was joined by Mayor Christian Provenzano and a handful of community stakeholders during Thursday’s virtual announcement.
“This is just one of many steps that our government has taken towards trying to ensure that we do everything in our power to assist municipalities and our communities – and the people within – in a restart as we recover from COVID-19,” Romano said.
Provenzano says the municipality has incurred a loss of $3.2 million to date due to the ongoing pandemic, and that the new funding will ensure that the municipality can continue to deliver safe services to the community, such as the operation of municipal facilities.
“If you include transit and lost transit revenue, to date COVID has had an impact where we’ve lost revenue totalling $5.6 million,” said Provenzano. “Now, the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s been very conscientious about reducing costs to offset some of that, but even if you take into consideration those cost reductions, we are still at a loss of over $3 million.”
Provenzano anticipates that city staff will begin identifying spending priorities “immediately,” with those priorities being decided on by council as early as September.
“Staff is going to have to look at any parameters or restrictions on the funding. My understanding, in discussions with the minister, is that I don’t think there’s significant restrictions on it,” said the mayor. “But staff will look at and assess the highest level of need, and bring that back to council to make a broad decision.”
“I have not had any discussions with any of my council colleagues about this funding, because I just became aware of it.”
The mayor also anticipates that additional costs will be incurred as the municipality continues to open up City Hall, making adjustments to the building internally while racking up additional cleaning expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can assure you that all of the fund will be used for COVID-related expenses, and for expenses that would ensure that we continue to operate in a safe way, continue to keep our staff safe – and frankly, recover, maybe, on some of the expenses we’ve incurred to date, and some of the revenue loss that we’ve incurred to date that relates to COVID,” Provenzano told reporters following the announcement.
The mayor notes that it's entirely possible that the City could make needed COVID-related investments while not running a deficit thanks to the new funding from both levels of government.
“That’s a big, important issue for council, because what city council doesn’t want to do next year is have to recover a deficit and pass it onto our taxpayers and raise taxes in a significant amount in a time where frankly, it will create a hardship or could create a hardship,” he said.
In all, more than 400 municipalities across Ontario will receive some level of support from the $4 billion fund as part of the Safe Restart Agreement. The first phase of funding, which includes the announced funding for Sault Ste. Marie, will see $1.6 million distributed to municipalities in the province.
“Municipalities across the country have been telling their provincial and federal governments that we need assistance and support throughout this, and I’ll be very pointed: the province of Ontario has answered the call here,” said Provenzano. “So this is a very helpful and generous amount for our municipality.”