For those who want to stay right up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 2:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. We’re getting lots of emails with lots of questions and we’ll do our best to answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Tuesday. We’ll be back Wednesday at 3:30pm. Note the new time for Wednesday.
News from the federal government
A reminder that if you need to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and your birthday is in April, May, or June, today is your day to apply. The application days have been staggered to make it easier for people to apply. Yesterday we detailed who is eligible, but you can also learn more and apply here.
News from the provincial government
Today Dr, Bonnie Henry wrote an op-ed which I encourage you all to check out, called, “No Boundaries with COVID-19″. In it, she addresses how much information she discloses about the location of confirmed cases and why specific locations – neighbourhoods or cities – aren’t disclosed.
I want to share this important point from her article with you: “While I understand the desire to know and understand what the COVID-19 situation is in your community, I need to emphasize that knowing where the positive cases are does not protect you, your family or your community. The actions you take will do that. No one is immune from this disease, but everyone can make a difference. Every British Columbian has a part to play to flatten the curve.”
It is a good reminder for all of us who have not had the virus that we are not immune. We ALL need to commit and re-commit to the measures that will keep our community safe and healthy.
News from the City
This Thursday at Council we’ll be re-opening the City’s budget in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Just like many businesses and households that have less revenue than usual and less cash on hand, the City’s revenue is also down, which means we have difficult decisions to make.
What some people might not know is that legally, municipalities have to balance our budgets. We can’t spend more in a year than we bring in. We are not permitted to run a deficit. This makes our work even more difficult.
But, we do have some ways we can help residents and businesses financially through the City’s 2020 budget. We are looking at potentially delaying significant capital projects and other new city initiatives in order to reduce the city’s 2020 budget.
If we reallocate over $11 million from those projects, as staff are recommending, then we can extend utility bill due dates by 90 days, and extend the property tax deadline to August 1st. Additionally, staff are recommending we create a larger operating contingency budget by deferring city projects and initiatives because we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last. This will put us in better shape to provide stability for city services that we all depend on – like garbage collection and clean water – even if the crisis continues for some time.
We will also need to have a difficult conversation about the property tax increase. As of now, 2020 taxes are proposed to go up by 3.35% We could put less money in our reserves this year and lower the property tax rate. This will be another difficult conversation that Council has on Thursday.
In short – I hope we can make the most of our resources to help residents and business owners in this time, without reducing the services you all depend on. These will be extremely tough decisions, and we will be making these decisions publicly in our Committee of the Whole and Council meetings Thursday.
As I said yesterday, we don’t have the same tools as the province and the federal government to be able to provide big financial relief packages. That’s why staff are recommending that we ask the Province to:
- Increase amounts for Homeowner Grants, and create a new category of grant applicable to people who have lost income due to the pandemic
- Reinstate the financial hardship Deferment Program and extend the program to commercial properties
- Change the date that we have to pay taxes to other agencies
You can read the full staff report here, which includes the lists of projects we are considering deferring. And you can, as always, watch our webcast as we hold our budget debate.
News from the community
The Rapid Relief Fund, started by the Times Colonist, the Victoria Foundation, and the Jawl Family Foundation have now set a target of $4 million in donations, and Victoria is really coming through. They are almost there! So many people have been helped already through this fund – every dollar raised goes to COVID relief in Greater Victoria. If you’re in a position to help them get to $4 million, you can do so here.