Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the City is working on a financial plan that will provide some relief to residents and continue to provide for necessary services. (Facebook)

COVID-19: Victoria hopes to provide financial relief through property taxes, utility bills

A number of city projects could be deferred in light of pandemic

Victoria is exploring its options to deal with sudden financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a daily public update, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said revenue from the Victoria Conference Centre is down by $2 million and income from parking, which typically brings in about $1.5 million per month, is “down to a slow trickle.”

“Just like you do, and just like businesses … we have difficult decisions to make,” she said.

Unable to carry a deficit like provincial and federal governments, Helps emphasized that the municipality is limited to operating within a balanced budget.

That’s why a staff report has asked council to consider delaying a number of capital budgets and city projects to reallocate money for necessary services.

READ ALSO: Victoria moves homeless into 35 hotel rooms across the city

“This is really important. We don’t know how long this crisis will last, but if we create a larger contingency for this year, that will allow us to be in better shape to deliver the services you depend on, like garbage pickup [and] clean water,” Helps said, adding that the reallocation of funds could also allow the City to defer utility bill payments for 90 days.

But that means that some projects, such as the Topaz Park skate and bike park, could be deferred this year.

“These are hard decisions to make but we know that this is the right thing to do because we know that you and others are really struggling right now,” Helps said.

She said delaying a number of capital budgets into 2021 – and possibly beyond – could reallocate $11 million.

The mayor also spoke about property taxes – currently set to increase by 3.35 per cent. She said the City may be able to grant a one month extension to home and commercial property owners, but any extensions beyond that will require leeway from the provincial government.

“We’ll write some letters and make some phone calls coming out of council on Thursday to ask them to strongly consider these measures council is recommending.”

Helps is hoping council will agree to eliminate the property tax increase entirely at this week’s meeting.

“Reducing [the increase] means that we reduce the amount of money that we put, directly from collecting taxes, into the building and infrastructure reserve which goes to fund projects in the future,” Helps said. “My personal feeling, is that reserves are for rainy days, and right now its pouring.”

Council will deliberate and discuss staff recommendations at a committee of the whole meeting on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Victoria to reassess 2020 budget in light of COVID-19; more hotel rooms found for the homeless



nina.grossman@blackpress.ca

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