Woodstock to present budget grappling with COVID-19 fallout Tuesday night

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It’s shaping up to be another uncertain year in municipal finance as Woodstock city staff presented a revenue fund budget Tuesday that wrestled with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

City staff started the first of three sessions by presenting the draft $88-million revenue fund budget to councillors. That presentation reviewed special events, human resources, city aquatics, the CAO’s department, the fire department and administrative services, among others.

City officials said they’re expecting that roughly $61.8 million will have to be raised through taxation, a 4.9 per cent increase from last year. With the continuing growth in the city – an an estimated 2.3 increase in related assessment – city officials anticipate a 2.5 per cent increase to the residential tax rate this year, or about a $61 increase for the average homeowner.

City staff initially prepared the budget when the city was still in the yellow tier of the province’s COVID response framework, and revised it again during the lockdown. Woodstock now sits in red-level restrictions, though that could change in the near future.

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Budget estimates were revised when the province declared a second state of emergency, a provincewide shutdown of non-essential businesses and a stay-at-home order that continues to at least mid-February. The proposed 2021 budget attempts to estimate revenues and expenditures that result from the significant impacts of the ongoing pandemic,” staff noted in the introduction to the budget. 

“The resulting 2021 estimated levy is our best estimate of funding from taxation needed for operations in this non-normal year.”

But with the uncertain impacts of COVID-19, staff have had to plan for an unknown future – one where user fees for city facilities, gaming revenue, transit fares and more are still up in the air.

“The proposed 2021 budget attempts to estimate revenues and expenditures that result from the significant impacts of the ongoing pandemic. While council direction was provided to deliver a budget for the continuation of programs and services, this can only be done in compliance with provincial regulation and public-health recommendations,” staff wrote in the preface to the revenue budget presentation.

The city has planned for the cancellation of most major summer events this year, staff said in their report, including Cowapolooza , Art in the Park and Victoria Day. However, the city is planning to keep money in the budget for Canada Day and for events later in the 2021 like Remembrance Day and Winter Lights.

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The city will feel some hits from the pandemic, including roughly $300,000 in relief costs when penalties and interest on outstanding taxes were waived over the summer and the last two tax payments were deferred by a month.

The city will also see a reduction in Ontario Lottery Gaming payments because of the closure and reduced occupancy of gaming facilities last year. OLG funding is applied a year ahead, meaning the city will see impacts from 2020 this year. The city uses these funds for grants, capital financing and taxpayer relief.

Provincial COVID-19 funding, such as Safe Restart Ontario, has been applied to areas where the city is expecting a reduction in 2021, like gaming money and transit fare revenue.

There is another revenue fund budget meeting set for Thursday at 5 p.m. Meetings are broadcast live to the city’s YouTube channel.

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