INNISFAIL – The Town of Innisfail is getting big financial help to cover its unexpected and unprecedented cost to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late last month the town received notice from the province it would be getting $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.
“It’s good news but on the other hand where is the government going to get all this money? We are going to pay in the long run,” said Mayor Jim Romane of the new COVID funding from senior levels of government.
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 to use the new money. Any funds not used must be sent back to the province.
“That was quite unexpected. I was not expecting that much,” said Heather Whymark, the town’s director of corporate services, of the new COVID funds.
She said the town’s losses from COVID include ones from temporary program shutdowns at the arena and the aquatic centre, lost wages, as well as new expenses for all the health and safety supplies the town needed.
Whymark told council the town accumulated about $300,000 worth of expenses and losses up to the end of June.
She said there is probably another $100,000 since then that can be added, leaving the town with about $400,000 to allocate towards future expenses and losses.
She said the town would be looking at programs for the town’s more vulnerable citizens and additional supplies, including masks, hand sanitizers and special cleaning machines to speed up servicing for larger vehicles, such as the ones at the Innisfail Fire Department.
Although the town is welcoming the $800,000 it will not make a measurable impact for its 2021 budget, said Whymark.
“It can not be contributed in any way, shape or form to the 2021 budget, so it has nothing to do with that at all,” she said of the COVID funding. “Someone might think, ‘I am going to keep it over here until more COVID hits.’ They can’t do that."
“What it does is put our 2021 budget back in line,” she added.
Whymark added the current total hit of about $400,000 in the COVID cost to the town is now covered by the new COVID money, and any shortfall the town could have seen because of the pandemic has now been taken care of.