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COVID-19 restart spending on the Coast

COVID-19 restart spending on the Coast

Coast local governments still have questions as they begin allocating their Federal/Provincial COVID-19 Restart funding.
On Dec. 16, Sechelt council authorized spending $81,600 of its over $2.5 million in restart money. Funding was approved to offset reduced rental income from municipal facilities and on computer equipment to help its employees work from home.
Where and when the remainder will be spent is to be determined. Council and staff will be seeking clarification on grant parameters. Councillor Brenda Rowe would like to start a conversation around using the money to support those most vulnerable in the community. Rowe suggested purchasing land for affordable housing, noting that other funding options are available for construction if the municipality owned land to locate projects on.
Director of Finance David Douglas stated that at this point, direction regarding restart funding is that use is to be for operational and limited capital projects. He said that the Province has not really “opened the door” for purchases like buying land for future uses. Councillor Matt McLean reminded all that the funds are still “taxpayers’ dollars.” He wants to see municipalities focus on core services and funding infrastructure deficits.
Sechelt is also looking to make the most of money available under the municipal restart and the tourism community support by balancing its project “wishlists” between the two funds. District staff have submitted requests in hopes of receiving up to $1 million from the province’s tourism stream. One item not included in that submission that Councillor Alton Toth suggests could be purchased with restart money is a water bottle refilling station. He believes the station would be a welcome addition once District public events can again be hosted and at gatherings like the Sechelt Farmers Market.
Toth asked about the use of restart funds to pay consultants to undertake long term planning projects. He noted that with the impacts of COVID-19, staff priorities had been shifted to deal with issues related to the pandemic. This has taken resources away from less urgent but still important work. He also asked about using the municipal restart grant for home energy or accessibility retrofit programs for lower-income residents. Douglas said that any restart money allocated by the municipality to others must go to non-profit organizations.
The SCRD began planning to spend its $521,000 of local government restart funding at its Dec. 17 infrastructure services committee meeting. The committee recommended that staff proposals on allocating that money be part of Round 1 budget discussions, slated to begin Feb. 1. The committee also wants further clarification from the Province on the uses and timing for spending its grant.
SCRD transit services will be receiving around $800,000 from the Province to offset operational impacts caused by the pandemic. This is from a separate stream of restart funding being allocated to BC Transit for operations, including those on the Coast.
Connie Jordison

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