BANFF – The Town of Banff has been given a $6 million cash injection to help the municipality deal with the financial burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The provincial and federal government support helps municipalities pay for incremental operating costs and reduced revenues associated with the pandemic.
Town of Banff officials say this is a good news story, and thanked the Canadian and Alberta governments for acknowledging the struggles municipalities have been facing, particularly tourist towns.
“This is really quite spectacular,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen at a council meeting on Monday (Oct. 26).
“This is going to go a long, long way to help our current financial situation based on COVID.”
The Town of Banff faced significant losses in revenues in 2020 including reduced business licence fees, utility revenues, recreation facility rentals and parking and traffic fine revenue.
There were also significant additional costs related to the purchase of protective equipment, signs and communications, hardware and software to allow people to work from home, as well as costs associated with creating a downtown pedestrian zone.
The new funding, known as the Municipal Operating Support Transfer (MOST), comes in three separate funding envelopes – $414,747 for transit, $903,674 for general operating and $4.69 million related to tourism – for a total of slightly more than $6 million.
Chris Hughes, the Town of Banff’s corporate services director, said $4.6 million for tourism was Banff’s share of a $10 million allocation split between Banff, Jasper and Canmore based on each municipality’s share of estimated daily visitation.
“This is in recognition of the fact that tourism communities were especially hard hit by COVID-19,” he said.
“The province is also looking to tourism communities to help lead in the recovery from COVID.”
Earlier in the year, Banff town council addressed COVID-19 financial challenges by reducing employee wages and benefits, lowering training and travel expenses and making significant reductions to planned transfers to capital reserves.
Banff’s budget stabilization reserve – the municipality’s so-called rainy day fund – was also used to offset some of the unanticipated financial burdens that came with the pandemic.
“With this new funding comes an opportunity to address some of the reductions that were made during the 2020 budget amendments,” said Hughes.
At Monday’s meeting, council approved transferring $3.54 million to the general capital, water and sewer reserves, which are the Town of Banff’s savings accounts to replace critical infrastructure.
“This will also allow the municipality to not increase the utility rates in 2021 in order to fund the 2020 reserve deficit,” he said.
In addition, council approved a transfer of $414,747 into the transit operating reserve and $256,000 into the budget stabilization account to cover previously approved expenditures for 2020 COVID safety protocols.
Another $200,000 was allocated for further COVID-19 safety initiatives in 2020, including additional funding for communications, and another $1.6 million into a COVID-19 economic recovery reserve.
Councillor Peter Poole voiced support for the COVID-19 economic recovery reserve, but with a caveat that a policy be developed on how the money in that account would be spent.
He said it would be wise to deliberate upon the most significant needs associated with COVID, noting that it’s not just businesses in the community that have been harmed by the pandemic, but non-profit groups and other organizations as well.
“I am really cautious about having $1 million to $2 million put into something that we don’t have a policy for,” he said.
After Poole got the support of his council colleagues on the development of a policy, Hughes said administration will come back to council for direction on now the reserve would be used.
“We will put forward some suggestions and look to council to fine tune that,” he said.