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Councillor questions city’s long-term finances

Coun. Mark King is remaining cautious about the city’s finances.

Many councillors at Tuesday’s city council meeting were touting the great work that North Bay has done to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic. King doesn’t want to prematurely celebrate any success.

“In the first four months or so of COVID, it seemed almost business as usual. There didn’t seem to be any concern on the part of the council with respect to capital projects and spending was going on as if nothing was happening,” King said. “The reality was, there was a tremendous change going on in the local economy. This is very obvious to me that this is with us for a very long time.”

During the discussion of the projected year-end budget, King questioned how the city’s community-funded revenue-generators, like hockey arenas, will be able to make up for the lost time.

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“Minor hockey plays a huge part in this city…I’m hearing the expected drop in registration will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50 percent. These are very concerning issues with respect to operations inside the city,” he said, adding that he is also concerned about the North Bay Battalion potentially resuming play in December.

Arena services are facing a projected revenue deficit of just over $689,000 by the end of the year based on figures available until the end of June. The city has cut costs by cancelling part-time seasonal positions, but King says that he still finds it difficult to pay full-time staff.

“How do I as a councillor go back to the property tax payer and say ‘these people we’ve got to pay even though they’re not working?'” he questioned.

Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch says that while some of the part-time seasonal positions were not offered, which saved some money, full-time staff have still been busy.

“Our staff have been working […] no service levels have been changed. You still got your garbage picked up, water was still coming out of your tap, roads were still being fixed – all that stuff was still happening,” said Vrebosch.

The Deputy Mayor adds that some positions have had to shift their focus.

“People may have been re-deployed to doing something different than their original job,” she explained. “At Pete Palangio [Arena], we had to have staff there because it was turned into a no-barrier shelter. It might not have been utilized in its full capacity, but it was still operational.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Coun. King put forward a resolution to include city staff in the next financial projections meeting, hoping to publicly discuss the implications of issues such as the Battalion’s return to play.

The City of North Bay has received over $4-million in government funding to help alleviate the impacts of COVID-19. Vrebosch says that the money will be a huge help in addressing the costs at year’s end.

King says that he is trying to be diligent of the ramifications that the pandemic will have years down the road.

“There’s a huge need for municipalities to adapt to what’s coming in the future,” he said.

Vrebosch says that it’s too difficult to anticipate the long-term effects on the finances because of the ever-changing nature of the pandemic.

The next financial projection report is set to be released in fall. 

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