The City of Prince Albert expects to lose more than $750,000 if long-term COVID-19 restrictions aren’t lifted by the end of 2020.
Those numbers were included in an updated financial forecast conducted on May 13 and released on Thursday. City officials estimate Prince Albert will lose $164,000 from March to June, $22,785 from July to September, and $568,849 from October to September. All predictions assume city facilities will not be allowed to open until 2020.
City Finance Director Cheryl Tkachuk will give additional details about those numbers at the next city council meeting. She said there is still a lot of uncertainty in the projections since no one knows how long the pandemic will last, or how long city facilities will remain closed. Some outdoor facilities, like the Kinsmen Water Park, could remain closed even if restrictions are lifted.
“It’s so fluid,” Tkachuk said during an interview on Thursday. “Things are changing week to week. We’re hoping to have another updated (forecast) coming soon, especially over the next month, because as things start opening up we’re going to have to start re-evaluating and seeing where some of those things might be.”
Parking revenue is the biggest undetermined number. The City’s no-ticket policy ended on May 19, but Tkachuk said they’ve haven’t factored any parking meter or ticket revenue into the forecast.
Property tax numbers are also a problem. The City extended the payment deadline from June 30 to September 30 at a special meeting on April 8. They won’t know how many people took advantage of that option until after the original June deadline.
There is also a lot of uncertainty over when city facilities will be allowed to open. The City anticipates losing $350,000 alone if they have to keep the Alfred Jenkins Field House closed through December. Most of the projected $563,849 fourth quarter loss is due to closing the Alfred Jenkins, the E.A. Rawlinson Centre, the Dave Steuart Arena, Kinsmen Arena and the Art Hauser Centre.
The city has saved money by not having staff there, that hasn’t been enough to offset the lost revenue. Some outdoor facilities, like Kinsmen Water Park, may stay closed even if restrictions are lifted. Tkachuck said it simply won’t be feasible to open them for a few weeks.
Prince Albert city council has turned to short-term borrowing as a way to cover the losses. On April 19, they passed third reading of a bylaw that increases the City’s line of credit by $10-million. It also gives the financial department permission to secure a $10-million increase in maximum allowable debt with the Saskatchewan Municipal Board (SMB).
Despite those efforts, Mayor Greg Dionne said that may not be enough to cover all the costs. He thanked the provincial government for providing $5.1-million for infrastructure projects through the Municipal Economic Enhancement Program (MEEP), but said the federal government needs to step in and help if cities are going to survive.
“All I’m asking from the federal government, and I’m going to emphasize this to the province on our conference call next Tuesday, is to double the Gas Tax (funding),” Dionne said. “They did that the year before…. I think that would help us turn the corner.”
Doubling the Gas Tax payments would provide the City with $4-million instead of the usual $2-million. Dionne it’s been a long-standing and successful program that every municipality is a part of, which would make it easier to transfer funds to the province.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities called on Ottawa to provide at least $10-billin in emergency aid more than a month ago. They upped that request to $15-billion on April 23.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he understands municipalities are seeing massive drops in revenue, but added that he also wants to hear solutions from the provinces, since cities are a provincial responsibility.
Like Tkachuk, Dionne said there is still a large amount of uncertainty in the City’s financial update. He expects to see another report when the provincial government moves to phase three of its five-phase Reopen Saskatchewan Plan. The target date for phase three is June 8.
“It will tell us, if our facilities are still closed, what we can open reasonably and what we can’t open,” he said. “The other decision that has to be made as we get later in the season, if come August they say, ‘okay pools can reopen,’ we would not be reopening our pool. I’m talking the Kinsmen. We’d open the Frank Dunn, the indoor pools, but the outdoor facilities we would not open because financially that just does not make sense for one month. It would be too costly and it would add to our debt.”
Dionne also asked residents to stay safe, be patient and be respectful while council considers all the available options.