THE City of Winnipeg should offer a short-term reserve fund of up to $2.5 million to help community centres absorb unexpected costs as they cope with the financial blow of COVID-19, some councillors argue.

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This article was published 11/3/2021 (439 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE City of Winnipeg should offer a short-term reserve fund of up to $2.5 million to help community centres absorb unexpected costs as they cope with the financial blow of COVID-19, some councillors argue.

Coun. Janice Lukes said a reserve fund should be the first step in the city’s effort to help city-owned community centres create an economic recovery plan.

Council’s protection and community services committee voted in favour of seeing the city help city-owned community centres create an economic recovery plan on Wednesday.

"Many centres aren’t in the red yet, but I think all of them are in a very precarious financial position," Lukes, who doesn’t sit on the committee, told its members.

On Wednesday, Coun. Ross Eadie raised an amendment that the city use "a portion" of last year’s $2.5-million tax-supported budget surplus to fund the plan, which passed in a 3-1 vote. Couns. Vivian Santos and Markus Chambers joined Eadie to support that change, while Coun. Sherri Rollins voted against it.

All four councillors voted in favour of the call to help the centres develop an economic recovery plan, while both the funding and the plan itself still require full council approval.

Lukes said the funding piece of the plan is urgently needed since she fears any sudden cost, such as an equipment breakdown, could be devastating for some of the 63 city-owned centres.

"If they can’t pay their bills, it’s a city asset. (These) will come back to the city and the city’s going to have to deal with (that)," Lukes told the Free Press.

Julie Fisher, president of the South Winnipeg Community Centre, told the committee her centre expects a $20,000 deficit this year and will enter its next budget year with "zero savings."

"This means no ability to respond to unforeseen expenses… We are deeply concerned that if another (COVID-19) wave materializes, we will not be able to make it through," said Fisher.

Margie Reis, a program manager for the Garden City Community Centre, said her centre has laid off more than 30 staff due to COVID-19 shutdowns and is facing a deficit of nearly $1.7 million.

"This economic recovery plan is definitely warranted," said Reis.

Michele Augert, chief executive officer of Dakota Community Centre, said Dakota expects another potential cost crunch soon. It collected $700,000 in adult rec hockey league fees and most of that revenue may need to be refunded, she said.

"(This) will effectively decimate (Dakota’s) cash on hand and result in some fairly drastic decisions in workforce, program and service reductions," said Augert.

While Augert said Dakota has $1.1 million in cash, it expects a loss of between $200,000 and $500,000 by the end of the year.

Coun. Rollins, the committee chairwoman, said she voted against tying city money to the recovery plan because it wasn’t clear what level of reserve funds community centres can already access to offset their losses. Rollins said the city should determine that before it doles out any funding.

"Before we contemplate… a $2.5-million request of the city, before we look here, we should look to the General Council of Winnipeg Community Centres and their availability within their program money to pivot and support (centres)," said Rollins.

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Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.