OPINION: Municipalities will face tough choices because of COVID

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By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Municipalities will face tough choices because of COVID
Cornwall City Hall

The ongoing global pandemic has temporarily disrupted the economy. All of the local municipalities in SD&G and the City of Cornwall have chosen to defer property tax payments to take some pressure off of their rate payers.

This was the right choice for municipalities to make and it puts their local businesses and residents first, as they should be. There is a trade off for this decision that municipalities and residents will have to come to terms with.

With less money coming in, budgets are having to be adjusted. The Township of North Glengarry has already chosen to defer over $400,000 in capital projects for 2020. This will mean no waterline for Kincardine St. in Alexandria, no new amenities that were planned for Island Park, and no electric ice edger for the Glengarry Sports Palace.

Similarly, Cornwall too will have to make some tough decisions on what capital projects will move forward, and what the city will have to do without for the time being.

Council was impressed with a report from administration in late April that showed that the city was weathering the economic storm fairly well. It seems like Cornwall will not have to layoff any full-time municipal employees, but, like in North Glengarry, some capital projects will have to be deferred.

During budget deliberations this past January, Councillor Eric Bergeron had a list of nearly a dozen items he wanted to see pulled from the 2020 budget as things that were “nice to have” but not necessary. Bergeron was often the only one in favour of pulling items like the new snow machine for Big Ben, an laser level for ice at the Complex, and a new HVAC system for the police headquarters.

Where Bergeron once faced a wall of resistance in pulling these items from the budget, there might now be a very real possibility that these projects do not go ahead as planned.

What should be deferred to the future and what should be done this year in the now more limited 2020 budget?

I think that the planned new fire hall on Brookdale Ave. should still go ahead because it is a matter of safety for the city.

When shaping the 2020 budget, Council did set aside $60,000 in salary to create a new position for someone to help execute the 2020-2022 Strategic Plan, I think that this is something that should be deferred. Due to the pandemic, many of the items in the Strategic Plan will have to be delayed anyway, so it is unlikely that a new employee will be needed to execute them.

Additionally, some portions of the Waterfront Plan will likely need to be delayed, however, I would caution Council against cutting too much from the Tourism or Economic Development budgets.

Truthfully, as long as social distancing is in place, there will not be a lot of tourism related events, at least not in the way we usually know them to be.

This year, there will be no Canada Day celebrations, no major sports events like the Shorty Jenkins Classic. However, some deficit spending in the Tourism and Economic Development departments I think will help bolster the economy when things inevitably go back to normal.

Plans like Councillor Todd Bennett’s pop-up shops should still be wholeheartedly pursued. Pop-up shops a long the waterfront now, will still attract people to the city, and to our beautiful waterfront while at the same time, allowing for social distancing.

What do you think readers? What do you think should stay, and what projects should be deferred? Email me a Letter to the Editor at nseebruch@seawaynews.media.

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