With plummeting revenues and soaring unexpected emergency response expenses, municipal government employees have not been immune to the challenging economic conditions onset by COVID-19.
Municipalities across the region have been temporarily laying off some employees, with significant jobs already shed from the City of Vancouver just three weeks into the escalating epidemic.
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In a statement to Daily Hive, Deputy City Manager Paul Mochrie says there have been about 1,500 layoffs to date, specifically workers who operate community centres, civic theatres, and Vancouver Public Library. These city departments and services are of course temporarily shuttered as a precaution to protect workers and the public from the coronavirus.
“This is a temporary situation exclusively due to the COVID pandemic,” he reiterated. “When we begin to reopen City services and recall workers, the agreement has employees coming back to their original positions.”
In the meantime, he says, the city is providing pay protection and a continuation of benefits to affected staff, with pay continuity of up to 42 days and extended health benefits for three months.
The city is doing its best with redeploying employees in closed facilities and departments to other areas in need, including the new demands as a result of the pandemic. A Staff Redeployment Office has been created to centralize and facilitate these redeployment opportunities.
The City of Vancouver employs approximately 7,000 people. According to a January 2020 fiscal report created by city staff, the city’s operating budget in 2019 $1.47 billion, with $915 million going towards wages, salaries, and benefits.
Employees in Community and Cultural Services were paid $39.5 million, and Parks and Recreation saw a compensation of budget of $118.6 million. Those working for the Vancouver Public Library were paid $41.7 million.
Last year, the city collected $873.5 million in property taxes, penalties, and interest — up from $833 million in 2018.
It also saw revenues of $299.4 million from utility fees, $127 million from program fees, $96 million from licence and development fees, $103 million from parking revenues, $78 million from civic facility revenues, $22.2 million from bylaw fines, and $132.7 million from developer contributions.
But most of these fee-based revenue sources are now on the verge of collapse, with civic facilities closed, parking and bylaw enforcement largely suspended, and much of the business activities halted.
Moreover, possible measures that provide residents and businesses with interim financial relief, especially through broad-reaching deferrals in property taxes and utility fees, could add more red ink.
Remarkably, this is only beginning; the longevity of the crisis and societal shutdown, as a result of government-mandated physical distancing and self-isolation, is expected to last for months, but its impact could be far longer if the pandemic returns in waves later this year and in 2021, until a vaccine is ready.
The municipal government has a General Revenue Stabilization Reserve of $146.3 million for use as an operating contingency in case of inclement weather, catastrophic events, environmental hazards, extraordinary public safety situations, and economic downturns.
At the end of 2019, its specific purpose reserves totalled $1.285 million, an increase of $107.1 million over 2018.