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Eyeing COVID-19 price tag, city reduces spending

City council approves nearly $5 million in cost containment as municipality eyes possible $13 million shortfall by year's end.
Norm Gale and Linda Evans
City treasurer Linda Evans (left) and city manager Norm Gale. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay has found nearly $5 million in savings as it looks to dig out of what Mayor Bill Mauro said could be a $13 million hole in its 2020 budget from the COVID-19 pandemic.

City council supported new cost containment measures, including deferring capital projects and resuming the collection of transit fares at a Monday evening meeting.

City treasurer Linda Evans told council the pandemic had likely cost the city about $4.5 million by the end of May, and previously estimated the city would lose an additional $1.1 million per month after that. The impact comes largely from foregone revenue from transit, recreation, and other sources.

A report prepared by Evans outlined around $2.5 million in savings already identified by the city, and suggested over $2 million more in new measures to limit the damage.

Nearly $1.1 million in planned capital projects will be deferred to future years. That includes around $200,000 in planned HVAC, electrical, and lighting work on the Victoriaville centre – though that could change when council decides whether to demolish or reinvest in the facility later in the summer.

The city will also defer $250,000 in planned spending on Low Impact Developments, a major feature of the city’s sustainability efforts that help manage storm water and improve drainage.

Resuming the collection of transit fares as of July 20 is estimated to generate around $850,000 by the end of 2020.

Council also approved a handful of smaller savings. A $250,000 transfer to the city’s Renew Thunder Bay reserve fund for infrastructure projects and a $100,000 allocation to the Clean, Green & Beautiful committee to commemorate the city’s 50th anniversary were both cancelled.

As well, the closure of the city-supported 55 Plus Centre will be extended through the end of August. The move will save only $20,000, and was primarily based on health concerns, the city said, adding participation habitually falls during the summer in any case.

Those savings add to $2.5 million the city had previously identified, stemming from staff furloughs, utility savings on closed facilities, and the cancellation of many summer programs.

More detailed information on the pandemic’s financial impact will come July 27, when city administration delivers its second-quarter budget variance report.