INNISFAIL – Struggling citizens in the community may soon have the opportunity to have swim passes and library cards covered by government COVID money.
Town council was told on March 15 at its Agenda & Priorities meeting there is still a good chunk of cash available from last year’s joint federal and provincial grant to support Alberta communities through the pandemic crisis.
However, there is a March 31 deadline for council to decide but council is already unified on moving forward with an idea that it should go to the Innisfail FCSS office to help citizens who could use free swim passes at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre, get library cards, and maybe even get counselling covered for COVID-related stress.
Council was expected to make a final decision at its March 22 regular meeting.
Last fall, the town received $799,579 in Municipal Operating Support Transfer (MOST) funding, a program created by the provincial and federal governments to assist municipalities with the financial impacts caused by the pandemic.
Municipalities across Alberta can only use the new money for COVID-related expenses or to cover any financial losses institutions incurred during the pandemic.
They have until March 31 of this year to use the new money. Any funds not used must be sent back to the province.
On March 15, Heather Whymark, the town’s director of corporate services, updated council on all COVID-related expenses that were covered by the MOST program, and the funds still remaining before the March 31 deadline.
Whymark said $297,546 of MOST funds were reallocated to cover recreational revenue losses at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre, the arena and local programming. She said another $95,532 went to offset tax and utility penalties the town decided not to charge.
Council was told there was an additional $289,610 put toward COVID-related wages and expenses for the 2020 year. Whymark added another $39,951 went to COVID-related wages and expenses in 2021.
She said there was a remaining $76,940 for council to consider before March 31.
Whymark told council there has been internal discussions about what could be given back to the community with the remaining $76,940. Council was told administration looked at library memberships, aquatic centre pool passes and also “zoned in” on mental health support.
She said funds for the latter idea would need to go to local FCSS. Whymark added that office could look at supports for counselling sessions, as well as COVID-related financial advice, guest speakers, and help with coping with stress.
“We felt that would go well for the community,” she said, emphasizing the town can not use the provincial monies for future spending. “I wanted to see what council was thinking and what they wanted that to look like.”
She said the money could be allocated to FCSS before March 31 as that office has its own financial reporting guidelines that are different from the town and it would have the capabilities to use the money going forward.
Coun. Donnie Hill said it would be a good move to put the excess money out to the community for the aquatic centre passes and library.
“Knowing the power and the things that FCSS can do I would rest quite easy knowing it would be best spent in their hands,” said Hill, whose idea to help with swim passes and library memberships was supported by Coun. Danny Rieberger.
“I know the library is way down on memberships because that is something you do when you walk into a library not if you are doing curbside,” said Rieberger. “I think you would come up with the right answer if you give the bulk of the money to FCSS.”
Coun. Don Harrison also suggested giving all the provincial COVID monies to FCSS for that office to allocate to the pool and the library.
“That would be my intention is to give it to them (FCSS) with a premise of we would like to see some pool passes, and we like to see some library memberships come out of it and then whatever else they could fit in with the dollar value,” said Whymark.