As financial woes rise for many people in Burnaby and beyond amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Mike Hurley says dipping into the city’s vast reserves isn’t an option to offer major relief.
While the city has deep reserves, Hurley said the great majority of that is designated by the Community Charter or grant conditions for specific items or areas of spending.
“As far as property taxes go, we just collect enough to cover our expenses,” Hurley said. “All of those reserves you see are designated under the Community Charter, and even if we wanted to touch them, we can’t. Not all of them, but the ones that are a serious amount of money are designated.”
For example, the city’s gaming reserve – valued at around $84 million, according to a recent report to council – is designated for environmental, heritage, arts and cultural, safety and security projects, according to this year’s proposed budget.
That said, there are ongoing discussions about whether and how the city can use its non-designated reserves to offer help to people in the city, according to Hurley.
“We’re going to do everything we can,” he said, adding that the city’s own revenues are also declining. “We are losing serious money, as well. With all our facilities being closed, our revenue is taking a big hit. So some of those reserves are going to be used to cover off some of that.”
All local governments are barred from taking on a deficit in their annual budget, meaning the city has little wiggle room to work with beyond its current taxes and bank accounts.
As for potentially viable options for using reserve funds, Hurley said answers “will flesh out over the next few weeks” as the city works with federal and provincial ministers.
In an effort to help people who may be struggling to pay property taxes, Hurley said the city is continuing to push the province to allow it to defer the due date.
Twenty Metro Vancouver mayors, including Hurley, signed a joint letter to the province late last month calling for the ability to defer taxes, among other measures to help those financially struggling due to COVID-19. Hurley said the city has had calls with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson, and they’ve consistently pushed for this measure.
“We haven’t really had anything concrete. They just say that they’re looking at it. But realize that they’re swamped, too, on many different fronts,” Hurley said.
“Especially Minister Robinson, on homelessness and so many different issues. Everybody’s putting in so many hours to try to work through this thing.”