Facebook live update August 7 2020. We’ll be back on Friday September 4th at 1pm to update on City’s continued COVID-19 initiatives and Council decisions more generally.
I opened my remarks on Friday with gratitude to front line city staff. Over the past months of the ongoing global health pandemic, our bylaw team, our public works team, our parks staff and many more have been on the front lines doing their jobs in extremely challenging circumstances. On behalf of myself and Council, I want our staff to know how much we appreciate them. If you see a city worker out there, please stop and give them your thanks. It really makes a big difference.
On Thursday, Council revisited the 2020 budget items postponed in April due to decreased revenue and the economic uncertainty as a result of the pandemic. Because of COVID-19, revenues are down most notably in parking, the Victoria Conference Centre and revenue from the City’s commercial tenants.
After a long day and night of debate and discussion, Council made some important decisions:
- We agreed to use the approximately $3 million in COVID-19 related savings from 2020 towards the expected operating budget revenue shortfall and additional pandemic related costs.
- With a few exceptions, we postponed a significant number of capital projects, strategic plan action items and a number of proposed new staff positions.
- The Hillside-Quadra neighbourhood has been eagerly anticipating improvements to Topaz Park. I’m happy to report that Council will be making a $3.7 million investment in the long-awaited bike skills and skate park. Design will begin in 2020 with construction anticipated in 2021. We know that infrastructure investments are key for governments to make during a recession. These investments support the private sector to keep local people working and support local supply chains through procurement of goods and services.
- Council also allocated funding to install a new public washroom downtown at the south end of Douglas Street.
- And finally, the City will be establishing an Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, which will be staffed by an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer and an Accessibility Coordinator. This will provide resources to carry out a number of Council’s strategic plan projects and priorities.
What this all means is that Council has eliminated the projected deficit for 2020 and we’re leaving an additional $17.6 million in reserves. This will keep our reserves healthy as we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last. Like other governments and private sector businesses, we are making tough budget decisions right now. I believe we’ve landed on a smart, prudent way forward.
Council also held three public hearings on Thursday night on land use for new developments in Victoria. Public hearings look a little different these days – everything’s done online or via phone. I’m so happy we’ve been able to forge ahead with important projects while still allowing residents the chance to participate in land use decisions.
Thursday night Council approved 151 new rental units and the heritage revitalization of the Scott Building at Douglas and Hillside. This will give a much-needed boost to the rental stock in the city and it’s also a key project that will enhance the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood.
The City is continuing to see strong uptake on our Build Back Victoria program that allows for free expanded patio and flex space for businesses. We have received 97 applications and 72 permits have been issued. Staff are working fast on the others.
Another weekend is here, and I hope that everyone is out visiting some of those patios, exploring the city and supporting our local businesses. Without many of the three million tourists we see each year, our visitor economy is hurting. We can all do our part to help.
In addition to staying local and shopping local, myself and the mayors across the region have written a joint letter to Minister Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, in Ottawa this week asking for more support for the tourism industry in Victoria. Conferences, sports tourism, cruise, the Clipper, and Coho are all on hold and shut down this year. The closures are for good reason, but they do come with consequences. Our visitor economy will recover once medical advances to combat COVID-19 are available, but it needs help to survive to get through the winter and into next spring. It was great to work with all the regional Mayors on this to show support for our local industry.
It was also great to see tourism in our downtown featured on the front page of the Times Colonist on Tuesday. It’s wonderful to see people visiting Victoria from across Canada and enjoying everything that our city and region have to offer. I want everyone to know that they are welcome here.
I closed my Facebook live on Friday with a thank you to Mary who has been signing for us for the past few months. Friday was Mary’s last day with us as she is now retiring. She has been a sign language interpreter since 1985 working in both Ottawa and for the past 26 years here on the island. She’s been a respected colleague and mentor to many interpreters in the field and has provided interpreting services to ensure inclusive and accessible communication with hundreds of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals over the years. We have so appreciated Mary’s work with us over the last several months, and I’d like to wish Mary a very happy retirement.
On behalf of myself and Council, I hope that everyone is having a safe summer, keeping those safe distances and keeping circles and gatherings small. We’re hopefully through the worst of the pandemic at this point, and on a solid pathway towards economic and social recovery. To make this so and to stay on this pathway takes all of us, working together.
Council will be taking a break until September 3rd and I’ll be taking a short holiday, of sorts. With so much to do, including ongoing support needed for our businesses to recover and continuing to work hard with the Province to find indoor sheltering solutions for people camping in parks throughout the city, it won’t be a regular summer holiday this year. I do intend to do some writing and reflection as well, which I will post here on this blog. Please feel free to share this site with others and encourage them to follow if interested in receiving regular updates.