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City still has all of Safe Restart money left over, council told

City has more than $6.1 million of provincial grant funding left for 2022 budget year
City Hall
Prince George City Hall is seen in an undated Citizen file photo.

Year-end projections show the City of Prince George will not need to use roughly $3 million from the Provincial Safe Restart Grant authorized by city council last year.

In 2021, city council authorized use of the grant money to prevent a tax increase in the 2021 budget year. On Monday, city director of finance Kris Dalio said the city’s 2021 was very conservative because of the unknowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city was able to reopen many facilities and generated more revenue than projected in the budget, Dalio said.

“I would not expect the city to come millions of dollars under budget again,” Dalio added. “This was a one-time thing.”

That leaves roughly $6.11 million available to the city for the 2022 budget year, Dalio added. The city received the funding in 2020 from the provincial government as part of its relief efforts for municipalities hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is very little that a local government can not use this money for,” city manager Walter Babicz said. “That would enable council to consider again the use of the Safe Restart funding to reduce the tax levy to a level they think is appropriate.”

Reducing the 2022 tax increase from the proposed 6.55 per cent to three per cent would require more than $4.05 million, according to a report presented to council on Monday.

“This is a good news story to start off the (budget deliberations),” Coun. Kyle Sampson said.

CITY CUT $2.75M FROM OPERATING BUDGET

In a report to city council on Monday, Babicz outlined the measures taken by the city to control costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As everyone knows, COVID-19 has resulted in some financial challenges to the city,” Babicz said.

In November 2020, eight management and four unionized positions were eliminated, resulting in $1.55 million in annual savings.

In 2020, each department looked at non-labour expenses and suspended spending on items including training, travel and conference attendance. In addition, other expenses were reviewed and eliminated on a permanent basis. The review resulted in nearly $350,000 in annual savings.

In addition, management/exempt staff and mayor and council received a zero per cent cost-of-living increase in 2020 and 2021, saving approximately $500,000 in operating costs.

More than $365,500 in additional cost savings were found in 2021.

In 2021, further organizational structure changes were implemented resulting in a total of $365,592 in operating cost reductions.

In total, the city reduced its annual operating budget by $2.75 million.

Coun. Teri McConnachie thanked staff for their work to reduce costs, as the city is facing a 6.55 per cent tax increase this year.

“That’s $2.7 million we don’t have to talk about in the coming days,” McConnachie said. “The story just gets better.”

City council began budget deliberations on Monday at 3:30 p.m. The deliberations continue Monday at 6 p.m. and again on Wednesday, if needed.