Tuesday , 2 March 2021

City passes $10 million borrowing bylaw to keep cash flowing, 50 staff on leave or hours reduced

City council passed a short-term borrowing bylaw up to $10 million on Tuesday to manage a potential cash crunch during the COVID-19 pandemic and other lingering financial issues.

City administration brought the bylaw to council for consideration after determining that cashing in some of the city’s $36 million in investments would result in losses greater than the interest that would be charged on the short-term loan, the City said in a press release on Thursday.

The City has put over 50 employees on leave or reduced their hours, 35 per cent of city staff, they said.

“We hope that our staff can come back to work soon – and that we do not have to borrow this money to sustain our critical operations through the COVID-19 pandemic, but we have had to take a look at every option available to us to ensure that we can weather this pandemic while providing essential services and maintaining crucial infrastructure,” Mayor Craig Copeland said in the release.

The City said this bylaw falls in line with measures that a number of other municipalities have taken to ensure the continuity of their operations and that the money will only be borrowed if and when needed, which is expected to happen in July, if the current trend continues.

This measure was necessitated by the current economic situation, deferrals to property taxes and utility bills to assist residents, a loss of revenue from closed programs and facilities, no incoming revenue from ID 349 due to the absence of a decision on the city’s sustainability agreement, and the federal government’s continued refusal to pay the entirety of its Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for its property on CFB Cold Lake.

“With all of the measures that the Canadian Government has announced to help residents and communities, they continue to fail to pay their payments in lieu of property taxes as per their own rules,” Copeland said.

““PILT is meant to assist communities who provide services to federal properties. How the government can continue to see the impact that shorting PILT payments has on communities, especially in these times, is beyond frustrating. The Government of Canada continues to spend taxpayers’ money fighting communities who want the government to follow its own rules – now would be the time to honour the PILT program.”

The City said the Government of Canada has “dug in its heels” and further reduced PILT payments relating to the Department of National Defence’s Cold Lake Golf and Winter Club in what can be described as a new interpretation of the PILT Act being tested in Cold Lake.

The Government of Canada has an outstanding account with the city of over $22 million.

The 2019 money from the ID 349 agreement with the province, that includes Bonnyville, M.D. of Bonnyville, Glendon, Fishing Lake and Elizabeth Metis Settlement, was pulled late last year and no funding for this year has been provided.

“The original deal, of course, was to provide for the sustainability of Cold Lake and so the ID 349 property tax revenue we received contributed to the amount the city could borrow,” Copeland said.

“With no clear direction on the future of the city’s sustainability agreement, not only have we lost that property tax revenue for the time being, but our debt limit has been negatively impacted.”

The City of Cold Lake has been in contact with Alberta Municipal Affairs and expects a decision on the ID 349 agreement in the coming days, they said.

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.