Could take years for Manitoba municipalities to recover from COVID: Association of Manitoba Municipalities

By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Sun

The majority of municipalities in Manitoba are losing money and operating at a loss according to newly released data, and more than half of those municipalities believe it could take years to financially recover from the financial hardships that have been brought on by the pandemic.

In a Friday press release, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM), an organization that represents 137 incorporated municipalities in the province, announced the results of what they said was a member survey focusing on COVID-19’s fiscal impacts on Manitoba municipalities.

According to survey data, municipalities in Manitoba collectively experienced an estimated $91.8 million in operating losses in 2021, while the survey also revealed that an additional $53.3 million shortfall has been forecasted for the 2022 fiscal year.

“It is clear that municipalities continue to experience significant operating shortfalls due to the ongoing pandemic,” AMM President Kam Blight said in a media release.

According to the survey, 89% of municipalities have experienced further operating losses since the province provided funding of $106 million on behalf of the federal government under the Safe Restart Agreement (SRA) in October 2020.

The SRA saw the federal government put up $19 billion in a bid to boost economies that had been affected by the pandemic in all provinces and territories, and to help municipalities to be able to continue offering basic and essential services.

The study also showed that more than half of the municipalities in Manitoba believe it will take years to recover from their current financial situations, as 52% of municipalities said that it could take between two and eight years to financially recover to pre-crisis COVID-19 levels.

Blight said losses for municipalities in 2021 in Manitoba actually came in under what had been projected, but in many cases that came at the cost of municipal services for residents.

“While these numbers show a significant financial gap, the figures are actually lower than expected since many municipalities were forced to reduce services given their legal obligation to not run deficits,” Blight said.

AMM said municipalities will also need assistance moving forward to keep both municipal as well as recreational buildings up and running, as those types of buildings are accounting for a large portion of their budgets and in many cases their financial losses.

“Our latest survey continues to show that the largest financial hit to municipalities has been related to operating recreational facilities and other public municipal buildings,” Blight said.

“Moving forward, it is vital that all orders of government work together to ensure greater supports are provided so municipalities can continue offering essential services that Manitobans depend on.”

According to AMM, the survey was administered in January 2022, and the findings will now be provided to the provincial and federal governments “as they contemplate additional financial assistance to municipalities in their respective budgets.”