Building back after the COVID-19 crisis is not just a job that businesses are taking on, it is something every municipality across the province is working to do as well. Most, if not all municipalities across the province saw a significant loss in revenue during the pandemic thanks to the closure of recreation complexes, a downturn in transit use and the likes of deferrals of tax payments.
Many municipalities have had to lay off some employees, while also freezing summer student and hiring programs. Some larger cities such as Toronto have made their struggles well known, informing the province they need billions of dollars to help bounce back from this pandemic.
To help struggling regions rebuild post-COVID, the provincial government in partnership with the feds is delivering aid to 444 municipalities across the province. Waterloo Region municipalities are set to receive more than $13 million in funding, with Woolwich and Wellesley townships receiving a combined total of $754,600 to help them address operating pressures brought on by the virus and ensuing pandemic.
Across the province, municipalities will be provided with up to $1.6 billion as part of the first round of emergency funding under the Safe Restart Agreement.
“This funding was really a key partnership between the province and the federal government. There was a lot of back and forth between the feds, and the premier and the municipalities [who were] trying to figure out how everybody could get their fair share and… with us being the largest populated province, we wanted to make sure that we were going to be able to help our municipalities the best that we can,” said Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris. “Essentially what will happen is the first tranche will go out to the municipalities [and] they’ll be able to use that to help the public health in their communities [and] deliver critical services. Obviously transit is a big piece of that for the region. And then the second phase [of this funding] will be application based, to make sure that the leftover funds will be going to projects that we feel the community can benefit from the most.”
Come September, Woolwich is set to receive $550,500 while Wellesley will receive $204,100 from phase one of the funding partnership that totals $695 million. Funding has been allocated for this phase on a per household basis, giving larger populations an amount more proportionate to their needs. It’s shared 50/50 between upper- and lower-tier municipalities.
Harris says municipalities will be given information by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing as to what the funding can be used. He says during his time speaking with municipalities in his riding, he has heard concerns about transit, mental health services and homeless shelters. He said he hopes that by giving funding to municipalities that they are able to help build these and other services up again in their communities.
Applications for the second phase of funding will open later and municipalities will be able to apply if their needs exceed the funding with which they have already been provided.
“We’re going to be looking at areas where it’s needed the most, obviously there’s been some very hard hit areas when we talk about the service industry [and] when we talk about charitable organizations that do a lot of excellent fundraising in communities.[We are] trying to focus on what communities have unfortunately been lacking during the COVID crisis,” said Harris.
While the money has yet to be earmarked for specific uses, Woolwich director of finance Richard Petherick welcomed the funding, thanking the senior governments for understanding the pressures municipalities are currently facing and for listening to their needs as they work through the pandemic.