The City of Yellowknife says Covid-19 is set to leave a $2.5-million hole in its revenue for 2020 compared with initial forecasts.
While the city still expects to finish the year with a surplus of $3.2 million, Mayor Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio “we can’t keep taking that big hit” if the pandemic’s impacts extend into 2021 or beyond.
Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city’s senior administrator, told councillors the “extremely volatile” year to date meant revenues from property taxes, fees, charges, and land sales are projected to drop by $3 million on expectations.
However, some expenses have also been reduced, for example through the closure of facilities.
There is no suggestion of any immediate change to city programs and services or staffing levels.
But Bassi-Kellett said the city was now “living off our savings” to get through the pandemic.
“We’re OK right now but this is a signal administration is taking very seriously,” Bassi-Kellett said this week. “If this continues on, this creates a huge issue for us that we will need to manage with council’s guidance.”
Yellowknife posted a $6.7-million surplus in 2019, which Alty says is now proving vital as the city navigates the pandemic.
“It would have been worse if we didn’t end 2019 with a bit of a surplus,” she said, “but the $2.5 million is straight-up lost revenue.
“It’s tough to see the crystal ball of what 2021 will look like and if there is a second or third wave.
“Budget 2021 will be a pretty hard discussion. We’ll really have to take a look at our service levels and what we’re offering.”
Meanwhile, Alty said NWT government exemptions for certain activities – like hockey – were testing the city’s ability to plan what happens to its facilities.
“There are all these exemptions getting approved. Hockey was a bit of a surprise for us. We thought we weren’t going to be able to open arenas until there was a vaccine,” she said, referring to the NWT government’s Emerging Wisely pandemic recovery plan.
“We’re making plans based on Emerging Wisely and stuff has changed. For hockey, we had to take a look: is there going to be enough demand to open up? We’re looking at the Yellowknife Community Arena as opposed to the Multiplex.”
The city is now looking at an exemption of its own to make operation of Yellowknife’s swimming pool financially viable.
“Based on Emerging Wisely, we can let 20 people in,” said Alty, adding the capacity of the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool is 275 people and around 100 to 150 people can be expected at some sessions.
“Only letting 20 people in? The numbers wouldn’t make sense,” the mayor said.
“We are working on trying to get some exemptions there, too, to open up more fully when we’re able to.”