Tory says city losing $65M per week amid COVID-19 crisis
Published Friday, April 3, 2020 6:18PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 3, 2020 9:32PM EDT
The City of Toronto is already dipping into its 2019 surplus as it grapples with a significant cash crunch brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor John Tory said Friday that the city is losing approximately $65 million a week because of the crisis, with most of the loss attributable to lost revenue.
“We believe it’s important for the residents to have the same financial information that we have. This is after all your city, and it’s your money,” Tory said. “We’re experiencing a financial pressure estimated at $65 million each and every week that this crisis goes on.”
He said the pressure is driven by things like reduced TTC revenues, reduced parking and ticketing revenues and an increase in spending on services that people are relying on because of the crisis.
The mayor said he’s formed a task force that includes City Manager Chris Murray and Budget Chief Garry Crawford to look at ways that the city can maneuver through the crisis financially.
“But our focus is going to be on maintaining the services that you rely on and making sure that we won’t be asking you to pay more money by proposing any kind of additional tax increases,” Tory said. “We know that you’re in no position through all of this to be looking at that as an option.”
The mayor had previously said that the TTC was losing around $20 million per week in lost revenue because if the pandemic. However service has not been significantly cut back because essential workers still have to be able to move about.
“We are doing everything we can at the city hall to continue to deliver essential services to our residents,” Tory said.
City Manager Chris Murray said extra money in the coffers is cushioning the blow for now, but current projections show the city will start running short on cash by around June.
“There was certainly some surplus from 2019 and we have something called capital from current that we can utilize as well, but using that money will only last for a number of weeks,” Murray said.
“We believe that by roughly June, we will have expended those dollars and then we’ll be faced with the remainder of the pressure.”
He noted that in addition to lost TTC and parking enforcement revenue, the city has also deferred some taxes for a 60-day period to provide relief to those who are struggling.
“When you look at all of that it starts to put pressure on our ability to stay liquid, as we call it,” Murray said. “That’s where we’re at and obviously we’re going to be in discussions with upper levels of government about how we might remedy that.”
Tory said he will continue having conversations with the province and the federal government about financial support to see Toronto through the crisis financially.
In the meantime, he said there are no plans to lay off city staff.
“There is no plan at the moment to lay off anybody. There are just plans that we’re executing to try to redeploy as many people as possible and to do the retraining that goes with that,” Tory said.
However in a news release Friday, the city did say that as a temporary measure, it is not hiring 5,400 seasonal recreation workers who are normally hired at this time of year. The move is due to the cancellation of spring recreation, arts and museum programs.
Tory said he never imagined that as mayor, he’d be looking for ways to shut down economic activity in the city.
“You know, it isn’t something you ever think you’re going to have to do as a mayor – to urge businesses to close rather than open, to have workers tape off playgrounds to keep people out of those playgrounds as opposed to building new ones so that people have more places to play,” Tory said. “These are not things that you ever contemplate doing – cancelling parades rather than marching in them. But that’s what we have to do.”
Tory acknowledged that people have had their lives “tuned upside down” in many different ways because of the pandemic.
“It’s tough medicine that we’re being asked to take all of us together here, but it’s a deadly virus that requires tough medicine,” he said.
He added “I believe In Toronto residents and their ability to overcome almost anything.”
Officials renew plea for people to stay home
Both Tory and Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health, again implored residents to stay home as much as possible and refrain from gathering.
Their renewed plea came as provincial officials unveiled unsettling projections Friday that the virus could kill between 3,000 and 15,000 people in the province, even with tough social measures in place.
De Villa said that extrapolated against the fact that some 20 per cent of Ontario’s population lives in Toronto, the virus could end up killing between 600 and 3,000 people in the city.
As of Friday, Toronto has seen 986 cases of COVID-19, with 13 deaths so far, according to de Villa.
Some 27 per cent of cases in the city are attributable to community transmission.
Speaking to the expected spike in cases in the coming weeks, de Villa said that the behavior of every individual will impact how bad the mortality rate gets.
“These deaths are preventable,”she said. “This is what keeps me up at night. We each have an opportunity and a personal responsibility to prevent these deaths from happening.”
She said it’s important to share the stark outlook so that people understand that their actions will make a difference.
In terms of the financial impact, provincial officials speaking earlier in the day said that there is data that shows that economies recover more quickly when the virus spread is stopped sooner.
There are also financial disincentives for those who don’t take the emergency measures seriously.
Tory signed a bylaw Thursday prohibiting people who don’t live together from being less than two metres apart in city squares and parks. He said Friday that the fine for violating the bylaw has been set at $1,000.
“I’ve got a three-for-one deal that we can offer people here,” Tory said. “They can save money and not pay a fine; they can save lives, which is even more important than saving money even when they’re struggling; and they can get this crisis over faster if they just follow a simple approach that also addresses what’s going on in the parks – stay home.”