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City will wait until end of year to allocate $4.1M capital levy

Committee playing it safe with capital levy cash as it may be needed to offset deficit incurred due to COVID-19
Greater Sudbury's finance and administration committee deferred their decision on where to use their 1.5 per cent capital levy — equal to $4.1 million — during their meeting on June 2.

The capital levy report was first brought forward back in January, with options laid out as to where the city should allocate the funds, pointing to arterial roads, local roads and buildings and facilities as the key priorities.

Topping the list of options for the capital levy was investing the $4.1 million directly into buildings and equipment, including arena upgrades, repairs to the Copper Cliff Library and various technological improvements to the city's transit system.

Those decisions will have to wait until later in the year however, as the committee voted in favour of deferring the matter, due to COVID-19.

Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh brought forward the motion to defer the matter, indicating that now was not the time to be making a decision on where to allocate the money, given the levels of uncertainty about what the overall impact of the pandemic will have on the city.

"In December of 2019 and January 2020 we did not anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic, further, we have no idea what challenges and opportunities lay before us in the next 12 months," said McIntosh.

"I suggest to the Finance Committee that the capital levy allocation report be deferred until December of 2020, and that staff provide updated recommendations at that time to address aging infrastructure needs in the community and to include the potential for applying the amount towards the 2020 operational deficit."

McIntosh went on to explain that many things can change between now and the end of the year and doesn't imagine the report being the same six months from now.

Support for the deferral was unanimous, with a number of councillors chiming in to echo McIntosh's statements.

"I would ask that this deferral be supported, mainly because it gives staff time to go back and come back to us in December with something that includes both the Jan. 14 and tonight's report," said ward 5 coun. Robert Kirwan.

"The Jan. 14 report was supposed to be deferred to today with additional options and there are no additional options as part of this report. I think as we're looking at it right now we don't know if we're going to need this $4.1 million to cover the COVID deficit, so it makes sense not to commit it at this point, but by December we should have a better idea of what to do with it and at that point we'll be able to have a very wholesome discussion, knowing that we also have 2021 to talk about."

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti was one of the councillors who originally voted against the 1.5-per-cent capital tax levy, but was in support of deferring the report until December.

"Due to this pandemic we need to be more cautious of the money that we are using and deferring this to the end of the year is the right decision based on a number of factors," said Signoretti. 

"We all have wish lists and projects that we want to get done but we do have to be very cautious of what climate we're in right now and making sure that we look at the taxpayer and the struggles that they're going through, without having to spend this money right at this moment."

Mayor Brian Bigger also weighed in on the motion to defer and stated that it was absolutely the right thing to do.

"In these times, they are uncertain times, and so the deferral of this $4.1 million will put us in the best possible situation at this point in time," said Bigger.

"We're all aware of the need to continue with our capital programs, this would have been over and above but I think for the duration of this COVID crisis, I'm thankful that we have some money that we can commit back to offsetting some of the lost revenues."

Matt Durnan

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