Sparwood is looking to allocate its share of COVID-19 grant funding from the Federal and Provincial governments, after receiving a report from staff on how to split up and spend $1.282 million given to the district.
The Federal and Provincial governments have dished out $540 million to municipal governments around British Columbia to support local government operations with $425 million given as direct funding to address local government facility reopening and operating costs, emergency response costs, lost revenues “and other COVID-related impacts.”
At a meeting of the Committee of the Whole on Dec. 15, the district’s director of finance, Kristi Bilodeau reported that some $1.1 million of the districts allocated $1.282 million could already be spoken for, with the majority of the funds ($600,000) estimated to be taken up by lost revenue.
Another $172,968.06 would go to personal protective equipment and sanitization costs, while $84,973.12 would go to restart costs and changes in programming, and there were further expenses in tech, bylaw use of time on COVID-patrol, emergency planning, mental health training and payroll expenses.
Some $180,000 was unallocated, with Bilodeau reporting it could be carried through to 2022 for further COVID-19 related costs.
During discussion on questions to councillors from staff on whether they supported parts of the proposed allocation of funds, councillors were caught up on a proposed $100 one-time payment to staff working from home to cover expenses.
Coun. Ron Saad said that he didn’t support any payment when workers could work in the office.
“I’m not quite understanding the need for staff to work at home,” he said. “They have their own office. We’re stuck between these two panels of glass, and staff have their own office. I don’t understand the need for them to be working from home.”
Coun. Amy Cardozo said she believed the payment should be higher given the cost of offices expenses and the need to work from home to limit the spread of COVID-19, while Coun. Brad Bowen agreed. Coun. Joe Jarina said he had no problem “with a little stipend like that.”
Mayor David Wilks said he understood Coun. Saad’s concern, adding that he believed there was a need for accountability in the expense, and that he would prefer staff bring receipts to the district to recoup expenses.
Chief Administrative Officer of the district, Michele Schalekamp said that the item had been debated extensively among staff.
“We just thought the reward of a nominal amount is more fair than reimbursing someone for an ink cartridge, because you’re not using the full ink cartridge (for work),” she said, explaining it was difficult to untangle work expenses from home expenses when considering upgrades to internet connectivity and printer use.
Coun. Jason Christensen queried whether staff working from home really needed to, given the availability of their offices, but didn’t say whether he supported the proposed payment or not.
Currently, the province has not mandated that all workers with the ability work from home, but instead has issued a strong recommendation to do so.
It was estimated only 10 district staff would receive the one-time payment.
Councillors were unable to give direction to staff on what to do with the payment to staff working at home during the Committee of the Whole meeting, given the differences of opinion.
Instead, staff will bring a report to the next council meeting in the new year for a vote on options. Councillors did not indicate any opposition to the rest of the measures being proposed.