The City of Duncan will create a grant program with a cap of $10,000 for local organizations that are supporting businesses or individuals through the COVID-19 crisis, and is setting aside $100,000 from its budget for 2020 to fund it.
At a special council meeting on April 27 to discuss the budget, council decided that the funding for the program will come from $12,000 out of tax revenues and $88,000 out of surplus funds.
At the recommendation of staff, council also decided to defer the Government/Kenneth Street capital project, which has an estimated cost of $202,000, from 2020 to 2021 to help fund the grant program.
A report from finance director Bernice Crossman said that by choosing deferment of the Government/Kenneth Street project and using $12,000 of tax revenues and $88,000 of the $116,773 in surplus funds that were allocated to the road project, the grant program can be created without any impact to the current year’s taxes, or future year’s taxes.
“However, it will result in $100,000 of deferment of capital spending into the future, resulting in a 2021 capital project being deferred to 2022 and so on,” Crossman said.
“Also, issues have arisen regarding the current design efforts for the Government/Kenneth Street project that make deferring this project advisable.”
The city was considering a 3.16 per cent tax increase in 2020, but the financial repercussions on the city’s citizens from the COVID-19 crisis have led council to reconsider its options, and find ways to help local businesses and organizations during the pandemic.
The proposed budget for the year was given the first three readings at the council meeting on April 6, with the understanding that council still had the opportunity to pull the budget back for further review.
Council also decided on April 27 to reduce travel and conference stipends by 50 per cent for staff and council members in 2020, which had $55,750 budgeted before the cutback.
Staff was also asked at the time to provide a report on creating the grant program, and what capital projects could be deferred to fund it.
But not all councillors were in favour of creating the grant program.
Coun. Garry Bruce said the city can’t afford to use $88,000 from its surplus for the program.
“The federal and provincial governments are putting up lots of money fast and furious during the COVID-19 crisis, and we should wait to see how the money from the senior levels of government will impact local people and businesses before we do this,” he said.
But Coun. Jenni Capps said she’s in favour of the grant program because it would benefit local organizations and businesses.
“Providing funding from the program locally could have a ripple effect that could impact a lot of lives in the city,” she said.
“I like the sound of pots of money from senior levels of government, but that’s uncertain right now and I think this grant program will have a tangible impact on the local community.”
Coun. Tom Duncan agreed and said he believes the city has to spend money locally during the pandemic.
“A lot of restaurants and other businesses in the city are not coming back, and I think the program will provide some relief and good ideas we will need at the back end of the health crisis,” he said.
Mayor Michelle Staples said she has had discussions with people in the city and many believe that when the pandemic finally ends, the world and Duncan will be doing things differently.
She said the grant program could lead to some very creative and innovative ideas for people and businesses in Duncan.
“Localizing all we can is important right now,” Staples said.
The city’s final budget for 2020 must be adopted before May 15, and a final draft will be presented at the council meeting on May 4, with a recommended tax increase of 2.51 per cent, for consideration of the fourth and final reading.
A staff report by Crossman that was presented to council at the meeting on April 20 warned that the city’s five-year financial plan is already projecting a 5.3 per cent increase in 2021, and that could increase further if the city defers projects from 2020 to 2021.