Federal COVID-19 relief is eagerly awaited in many Maritime communities
SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- For cities and towns across the Maritimes, COVID-19 has been a municipal budget buster.
There are lots of unanticipated costs, and at the same time, huge losses in revenue.
"We've been (affected) across the board," said Saint John Mayor Don Darling. "Businesses have been shut down. There's fewer people in the core, there's fewer people parking. Events were cancelled. There's no cruise ships."
The damage to the Saint John economy is significant.
"That's a $4.5-million number for the city," aid Darling. "That's a big number."
This, at a time when Saint John was already cutting fire and police services and trying to eliminate a $10-million budget deficit.
It's a similar story in every other maritime city, including the region's largest, where pandemic costs are being measured in the millions, per month.
"On direct revenue loss, Halifax for example was losing $3 million a month on transit, and if you look at other fees we weren't collecting, recreation, parking infractions, it's another four- to-five million a month in direct revenue loss," said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.
The federal government has unveiled a $19-billion safe restart agreement with the provinces to kickstart the economy, cover some of the pandemic costs, and prepare for a possible second wave.
The premier's office says Nova Scotia's share will be about $250 million. New Brunswick will receive more than $213 million and Prince Edward Island can expect about $46 million.
The funding breakdown in New Brunswick is similar to how the money will be allocated in all the provinces.
$60 million will be spent on personal protective equipment and another $60 million will cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and tracing.
Restoring childcare services will get a $14-million boost and $40 million will be divided among municipalities to cover their COVID-19 costs.
"We're very hopeful that there will be significant help that comes to municipalities, and we all need it," said Darling.
In total, more than $500 million in federal assistance is coming to the Maritimes. Only a fraction of that is going to municipalities, and when that fraction actually arrives at a town hall or a city hall somewhere in the Maritimes, that is still anybody's guess.