Burnaby losing $5 million-plus a month as budget debate begins

Burnaby city council is set to debate the 2020 budget next week, a document that is likely to see significant changes as the city grapples with the financial shortcomings caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Included in the provisional budget, introduced in late February, includes a 3.5% tax increase on commercial and residential properties, hiking the overall tax to $1,854 for the average Burnaby home. That would represent a total increase of $65.

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The budget included an increase in spending to the tune of 6.1% between the operational and capital budgets compared with last year, totalling around $813 million.

But that is all but certain to change amid the sharpest economic downturn in history, which has caused many businesses in the city to close temporarily, indefinitely or permanently.

All that has left the budget, which must be finalized by May 15, “shaken up quite drastically” as the city manages its own financial woes, said Mayor Mike Hurley.

The city itself is losing $5 million to $6 million a month, Hurley told the NOW recently, and more than 1,500 employees have been laid off as a result – roughly 40% of the city’s unionized workforce.

“We want to give our residents and businesses as much (of a) break as we can, but at the same time, like everyone else, we’ve been taking our hits, too,” Hurley said. “We want to stay fair and stay on the line with it, but at the same time we have to think of the future of the city as well.”

Local governments throughout the province have asked the federal government for financial help, but what has come so far has generally been measures to “kick the ball down the road,” Hurley said. That includes borrowing interest-free from cities’ capital reserves to help with operating expenses.

Hurley said he doesn’t expect anything much more substantial from the province, however, leaving the city stuck with navigating the situation with the tools at its disposal.

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