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Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speaks during a press conference in Vancouver on July 4, 2019.

The Canadian Press

Vancouver’s mayor says community relief measures introduced Thursday by the British Columbia government are not enough to prevent city layoffs and service cuts.

Kennedy Stewart said offering municipalities tax-payment delays as well as borrowing and debt initiatives is helpful but won’t eliminate financial troubles related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said in a statement that Finance Minister Carole James and Housing Minister Selina Robinson deserve some thanks for announcing initial steps but they’re inadequate to make up for lost operating revenue or potential property-tax defaults.

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“Like other cities, Vancouver has already started adjusting to the new reality by shuttering many services, laying off 10 per cent of our work force and reducing the pay of management and other exempt staff by 10 per cent.”

Stewart said he will ask council to approve a 10-per-cent cut to his own salary.

B.C. reported two new outbreaks of COVID-19 on Thursday – one at a long-term care facility in Cranbrook and one at an acute care unit at the Ridge Meadows Hospital.

The province said new cases have also been identified at four long-term care facilities where outbreaks had previously been declared over. It said outbreaks are now confirmed at 26 long-term care and assisted-living facilities in B.C.

There were three additional deaths in the province, bringing the death toll to 78, along with 14 new confirmed cases of the disease for a total of 1,575.

The government relief plan offered to cash-strapped communities includes business tax reductions, tax payment delays and borrowing initiatives, but not an outright financial bailout some cities have been requesting.

Robinson said the provincial measures are aimed at helping struggling communities meet cash-flow and revenue problems as the pandemic creates economic turmoil.

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Local governments will now be able to borrow interest-free from their reserve funds and carry debt into next year to help them deal with immediate financial pressures, she said.

“I speak weekly with every local government in B.C. right now and I’ve heard first hand the real pressures this crisis has placed on resources and people in their communities,” Robinson told a news conference.

“This framework is designed as a first step, immediate relief to help communities to manage cash-flow pressures so they can continue to deliver the services that people count on.”

James said that in order to give businesses and landlords more time to pay commercial property taxes, the late payment date has been extended to Oct. 1, from July.

She said most commercial property tax bills will be cut by a further 25 per cent with a second reduction in school property tax payments, which have already been chopped by 50 per cent.

“While the municipal deadline for property taxes remains the same, most in July, we’re delaying the late payments for businesses in every community until October,” James said. “Businesses have told us they need this room and we’ve responded.”

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She said the school tax reduction will cut overall property taxes for businesses by 25 per cent.

Mayor Lisa Helps of Victoria said the tax deferrals for businesses and the borrowing option for local governments are welcome initiatives.

“Here at the city of Victoria we’ve been managing in a very fiscally prudent way and we’ve got very strong reserves and we have laid off, or don’t have working, about 163 auxiliary staff,” she said at a news conference. “At this point we don’t anticipate any more changes will need to be made.”

The board of Metro Vancouver, which represents the area’s 21 municipalities, called the government’s measures a positive first step to help withstand the financial impact of the pandemic.

However, Sav Dhaliwal, chairman of the board of directors, said in a statement that Metro Vancouver will continue advocating for additional financial support from both the B.C. and federal governments.

Val Litwin, president of the BC Chamber of Commerce, said the government’s moves signal that some help is available for businesses.

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“It’s the layering on of relief and it’s starting to help,” said Litwin, adding the federal government is suggesting that help for commercial property rent could be coming.

Union of B.C. Municipalities president Maja Tait said in a statement the measures provide additional assistance to small businesses and free up funds for local government.

“UBCM will monitor the impact of these measures on the state of local governments’ finances and work with the province to ensure that local governments have the resources to sustain their communities,” she said.

Stewart said earlier the city is looking at a range of options, from cutting arts grants to increasing staff layoffs in order to counter declining revenue.

A survey by the city found that about 25 per cent of its residents would not be paying their full tax bill.

City staff estimated that would mean a revenue loss of an additional $325 million.

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