Mayor Kennedy Stewart renews call for help from provincial and federal government

Apr 15 2020, 1:44 pm

Mayor Kennedy Stewart addressed Vancouver’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, once again stressing the need for support from the provincial and federal government.

“We are experiencing a global economic meltdown, not seen since the great depression,” he told reporters.

Vancouver is on track to save a combined $30 million through temporary layoffs and other savings and the mayor says that the City has approximately $130 million in cash reserves, which are typically held to fund emergencies or unforeseen costs.

While it’s typically not recommended to use more than a third of the emergency fund, the City could use it all if necessary, but Stewart says it wouldn’t nearly be enough to carry through the rest of the year.

“If the pandemic carried to 2021, it wouldn’t be enough,” he explains. “It also doesn’t cover defaulting on property taxes.”

Stewart added that the economic shortfalls could lead to more layoffs and deeper cuts to city services, should the pandemic continue to the end of the summer.

“That’s why I’m asking the federal and provincial government for help.”

While a handful of requests have been sent to senior levels of government, the City has yet to receive a concrete response. Stewart stresses that information is needed to plan any next steps, even if the answer is no.

“If you’re not gonna help us, tell us,” he says. “Don’t leave us hanging in the middle of this massive crisis.”

The mayor also addressed a number of reports that surfaced, stating that the City had “billions in reserves and a large budget surplus.”

Stewart says that “while there are billions in assets,” they’re tied to real estate, including land that has essential services on it, and “are not easily convertible to cash.”

He also says it would be “dumb” to unload assets “in one of the worst meltdowns in global history.”

Stewart noted that a survey he released earlier this week, revealing further information on the City’s finances, had drawn attention from the Bank of Canada, as well as mayors from around the world.

A key reason why is because the study accommodated the possibility of a property tax default, something that many other municipalities haven’t taken into account.

The survey said that half of Vancouver’s households are reporting an “overall decrease in income,” with 24% experiencing a significant decrease. Nearly half of respondents (46%) said that they had either lost their jobs or were given reduced hours.

The survey also showed that rent and mortgage payments were still a major issue and that many homeowners wouldn’t be able to pay for their upcoming property tax bills.

Delinquency for property tax means that Vancouver would need drastic measures to avoid insolvency.