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How much is COVID-19 costing the County of Simcoe?

'This is a very serious situation and we will take whatever measures we need to address. We’re not letting the financial considerations impact that ,' says official
2020-04-14 CountyVirtual JO-001
County council attended their first ever virtual council and committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday. Jessica Owen/BarrieToday

It’s been about a month since the province declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

As councils across Simcoe County offer tax and utility bill deferrals  to residents, businesses and services through a variety of programs, you may be wondering: How much is this all going to cost?

On Tuesday, County of Simcoe councillors participated in their first-ever virtual council meeting, where one of the items considered was a financial update which outlined preliminary costs and savings associated with their COVID-19 response, as well as projections on further costs and recoveries down the road should the state of emergency continue for an extended period of time.

“Right now, the county is in good financial shape. We don’t have any concerns about weathering this, at this point,” said Trevor Wilcox, general manager of corporate performance with the County of Simcoe. “Thankfully, due to previous actions of council, we’re in a very good state.”

Wilcox says it’s difficult to nail down a specific number with information and needs changing day by day.

“This is all ongoing. We’re all dealing with the uncertainty together. We really don’t know how long this will last,” said Wilcox.

Wilcox points to County of Simcoe Paramedic Services and long-term care as sectors where costs are climbing.

“About 90 per cent of our staff are either directly or indirectly supporting essential services,” he said. “So, we don’t have a large contingent of staff we could remove to cut costs.”

Looking forward, Wilcox says the county will be working with each member municipality and take their lead on how they’d like to ease property tax burdens on residents, with more information on those programs expected in the coming weeks.

“We’ll be matching what each municipality is doing. As they work on their programs or initiatives, we’ll support them. It won’t be something we do ourselves, we’ll be assisting because they’re the ones who actually collect the tax,” said Wilcox.

Overall, Wilcox says that while financial concerns are important, the county will not cut corners to save a buck.

“We’ve been prudent managers of the county’s money. This is a very serious situation and we will take whatever measures we need to address. We’re not letting the financial considerations impact that – we will manage to get through,” he said.

Cost and savings breakdown through the County of Simcoe

(All numbers are as of April 7, 2020)

Social and community services

Ontario Works caseloads have already increased, and it is expected that over the coming weeks and months that will continue. The client benefit portion of these expenditures is funded by the province, however all administration costs are shared at 50 per cent with the province up to a capped amount.

Emergency child care funding is being provided by the province for specific agencies within the county to continue operations for emergency child care.

Two major funding announcements have been made, both provided by the province: the Social Services Relief Fund allocation to the County of Simcoe is $2,440,500 for 2020/21, and the additional Reaching Home COVID-19 allocation is $1,641,353 for 2020/21. This funding is going toward supporting homelessness programs county-wide, including motel and shelter costs. As of this week, the County of Simcoe has paid out $295,000 in additional funding to support homelessness programs through the pandemic.

Revenues from tenants in buildings run through the Simcoe County Housing Corporation could decrease for those who experience loss of income which would increase the county/Barrie/Orillia share of these costs. Other facility costs such as enhanced cleaning costs will increase.

In non-profit housing owned by the county, revenues from tenants could decrease for those who experience loss of income. This will increase the county/Barrie/Orillia share of these costs. If any providers are not able to pay their mortgage payments in 2020 as a result of lost rental revenue, a subsidy adjustment may be required.

Health and emergency services

Simcoe County Paramedic Services have seen increased costs related to staffing, overtime, supplies (including personal protective equipment), and cleaning.

Additional ambulance capacity has been added with an estimated increase in costs of $165,000 per month (overtime rates) and includes paramedic staff in long-term care homes for screening purposes. These additional costs will be shared by Barrie and Orillia. To date there has been no indication of COVID Support funding by the Ministry of Health for paramedic services. Offsetting these increases are reduced per-litre fuel costs.

There have been extra staffing costs for higher call volume of 911 calls which will be passed on to local municipalities.

In the four county-owned long-term care homes there have been increased costs related to staffing, overtime, supplies (including personal protective equipment), and cleaning materials. The county has received notice of support funding from the Ministry of Long-Term Care totalling $300,000 for March and April. Revenue losses will be related to rental income from outside tenants. Georgian Day Out program in Elmvale is closed and there is a decrease in the demand at Georgian Village.

Engineering, planning and environment

The county is currently reviewing construction projects approved as part of the 2020 Capital Budget. As construction season is in its early stages, the county will be determining which projects are essential to proceed. The county has seen reduced per litre fuel costs for vehicles.

In Solid Waste Management, there has been a decrease in residential drop revenues because of landfill sites being closed temporarily and operating under reduced hours in addition to lower business and construction activity from commercial customers.

Simcoe County’s LINX transit program has seen a revenue drop estimated at $493,000 which is attributed to free ridership offered during COVID-19.

The Lake Simcoe Regional Airport has seen reduced variable revenues due to travel restrictions such as fuel sales, landing fees and aircraft servicing.

So far, the county says there are no known impacts yet to their forestry or planning and economic development departments due to COVID-19.

Service Simcoe

There have been increased costs to keeping the public informed of county services and general COVID-19 communications.

While the Simcoe County Museum and libraries are currently closed, there are still costs associated with cleaning and maintenance of the buildings as well as revenue losses from programs and admissions.

User fee revenues were estimated at $228,000 which include gift shop sales, admissions, memberships and rentals.

There have also been extra staffing costs associated with higher call volumes through Service Simcoe.

Corporate performance and general municipal impacts

The county has seen an increased system capacity to provide staff with the ability to work remotely. Additional costs relating to initiative included increased internet bandwidth, transition to Office365/Teams, additional licenses for VPN and Citrix and new equipment which was required to ensure sufficient capacity for staff working remotely.

The county is preparing for a potential increase in tax write-offs and lower supplementary taxes resulting in reduced net assessment growth, as well as reduced interest revenue earned due to bank rate reductions and reduced level of cash balances.

There is also the possibility of a delay in receipt of the County Levy due to property-tax deferral programs.

In addition, there is the possibility of major longer-term impacts depending on the duration and severity of the pause in economic activity, including the cost of borrowing, a lower investment rate which would impact future interest allocations to reserves and a reduction in building activity which could lead to a reduced level of development charge collections.

Other expected modest savings across multiple services and departments include operational savings related to decreased travel, office supplies, meeting expenses, conferences and mileage due to office closure (except for essential services), travel restrictions and cancelled events.