I hope everyone is healthy and practicing physical distancing while still staying connected and safe during these challenging times. I am very proud of the community for how we have come together to fight this pandemic and hope that in the near future we will have an opportunity to come together again as we reopen society at the direction of our Public Health units across the Region, Province and Country.
What did City Council do?
Economic Development Pandemic Response
Council received a presentation from our Economic Development team to highlight some of the challenges, advocacy and emerging trends pertaining to economic development within the City of Waterloo in light of COVID-19. Our Economic Development and Arts & Culture team have worked hard on initiatives such as the Through our Waterloo Windows and our critically acclaimed Restaurant Map, which has been replicated in municipalities throughout the Province. Additionally our team is collaborating across the Region with other municipalities and external stakeholders such as Waterloo Economic Development Corporation, Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, Communitech and more to create BESTWR. BESTWR is acting as a unified lobbying voice to the federal and provincial governments on behalf of our local economy. Some of the conversations they have had have led to changes to the Emergency Wage Subsidy for startups and the Rent Assistance Program. Finally, our team is looking at the post COVID-19 landscape, analyzing trends and previous crises to plan for how we emerge from this pandemic.
Municipal Construction Projects
The Province of Ontario has implemented an emergency order surrounding construction projects. Municipalities have separate rules to private construction, however there are still impacts as to what we can and cannot proceed with. Ideally Council would like to continue to keep the economy moving to the best extent we can and not hold up projects, however this order along with financial challenges have forced the City to review our full Capital Project list for 2020 and to defer some projects into 2021. From a Ward 2 perspective the good news is that the West Side Employment Lands project will continue in 2020 as planned, with grading on the site continuing, the Storm Water Management Pond (in the hydro corridor) being built, servicing (sewer, water, utilities) for the site proceeding and Platinum Drive (connecting Columbia Street to Erb Street) being constructed. There are physical distancing requirements in place, which may alter the timelines for completion somewhat, but the projects are moving forward, which is great news. The Region of Waterloo is also proceeding with the tender to widen Erb Street West (from Wilmot Line to Fischer-Hallman). Two projects in the Ward that have been deferred are the Ira Needles Bypass Road (connecting Ira Needles to Erb Street West, via the Boardwalk) and the Hydro Corridor Trail (connecting Columbia Street to Paris Blvd). Please contact me if you have additional questions on municipal construction projects.
COVID-19 Corporate Financial Update
On April 27th Council held an open virtual meeting to discuss our financial situation in light of COVID-19. This report touched on a number of topics; revenue reductions, COVID-19 related expenses, cost mitigation, cash flow management and future unknowns that need to be monitored. There has been much conversation about many of the financial challenges that municipalities are facing today and into the future. The City of Waterloo is in a better position than some, simply because we are not facing the revenue reductions at the same level as other organizations. Notably, municipalities (such as the Region of Waterloo) that have a transit service are struggling mightily with how to recoup these losses. That said we do have revenue shortfalls that are in the $1.9 million range just for March and April alone! These include interest revenue (which we have waived for the time being), investment revenue (investments have been pulled to manage our cash flow), parking revenue (also waived) and most significantly facilities and recreational revenue. These are mitigated to some degree by reduced expenses including utilities/water usage, other costs associated with running our facilities and of course labour reductions. In spite of this we are going to experience a net loss of $254,600 for March/April, with projected losses of $556,656 in May and $189,056 in June. The future unknowns prevent us from being able to provide complete next steps as to how we will manage this shortfall in the long term. Those unknowns include concerns around tenant revenue and additional costs such as extra cleaning costs for our facilities (how frequently will change rooms at RIM Park and the Rec Centre need to occur). Perhaps the largest unknowns relate to assessment growth and the potential of a significant economic downturn leading to increased outstanding property tax amounts and a lengthy recovery process.
The good news is that a focus on our financial position over the past 20 years has put the City in a position to weather this storm for a while. Our Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve Fund is in a strong position, which will be the first thing we dip into to help make up the shortfall noted above. If we start to get back to a ‘new normal’ in the near future, we may be able to handle this situation without further tax impacts or service cuts. That is our goal and we will continue to monitor this on our road to recovery.
Additionally, Council approved the allocation of our 2019 surplus, approved funding for a much needed elevator at the Button Factory, and approved fleet equipment funding, including our enrolment in an organization which helps corporations as they look to ‘green’ their fleet. If anyone would like to learn more on any of the above topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a chat.
Outside of the Council Chambers
I have continued to keep myself busy with webinars on a variety of topics. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to connect with people around the world and learn about topics that colour my perception of the world and the City of Waterloo. Many of these webinars have been alerted to me through my association with the Climate Caucus and so I am grateful for the work this group of elected officials is performing across the country. Additionally I have had an opportunity to attend webinars hosted by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). AMO is doing tireless advocacy work to the Province of Ontario on behalf of municipalities and helping staff and elected officials across the Province connect in these challenging times.
If you have yet to attend one of my neighbourhood Q&A zoom calls, please follow my Facebook page and keep your eyes out for the next iteration. These calls are a great way to learn what is happening in the City, connect with your neighbours and highlight areas of concern for me to bring to Council. We’ve had great conversations at these meetings regarding opening up streets to pedestrians/cyclists to practice physical distancing, concerns regarding Columbia Forest trail usage, in particular dogs being walked off leash, ways to help those in need during the pandemic, how to deal with neighbours that are not practicing physical distancing, in particular in an empathetic manner.
On that last note, regarding empathy I think it is important for us to consider that we do not know the challenges that each other are going through. I heard a really great quote in a couple of places recently, which is that in this crisis ‘we are not all in the same boat, we are all doing our best to weather the same storm but our individual circumstances are quite different’. Let us please keep that in mind as we consider confronting or judging individuals. Let us continue to share factual, public health information in our social media feeds and let us continue to focus on all of the amazing positive things that are happening in our communities. As we continue to navigate this storm, one thing I am certain of is that we will need community more than ever!
Region of Waterloo – COVID Information
City of Waterloo – COVID Information
City of Waterloo – Neighbours Helping Neighbours Newsletter
Please sign up to the City of Waterloo’s neighbours helping neighbours newsletter. Lot’s of great information included in this months newsletter linked below, including; Community Gardens Update, Stay Connected Journal/Activity Book, Waterloo at Home Resources, Interactive Restaurant Map and more!
Community Resources – Wellbeing Waterloo Region
Please check out the Wellbeing Waterloo page for a list of services that you or your loved ones may need to access or support during this crisis, including; Mental Health Resources, Information for Vulnerable Groups, Healthcare Services, Counselling, Front Line Worker Resources, Sexual Assault Support Centre, Language Resources, Volunteering Opportunities, Pet Food Bank, KWCF and more!
A reminder that as the weather turns, if you are out for a ‘mental health and exercise’ walk, my scavenger hunt is a great way to explore and learn more about your neighbourhood.