Thursday, April 23

Dear New Westminster,

This week I am going to take a different approach in my letter, as I wanted to spend some time providing people with an update on the financial situation of both the city and TransLink. In the first few weeks of the crisis these organizations were heavily focused on adjusting services during the pandemic and ensuring that the organizations could operate in a safe way for both employees and residents. By the end of March it was becoming clear that both of these organizations would be faced with significant financial challenges because of the crisis. Responding to the emerging needs of the crisis has still been important and I am grateful for our strong staff team and my colleagues on council who have been able to focus on this work. This has allowed me some time to focus more of my attention to working on the financial sustainability of both the city and TransLink.

I am going to start with the good news. Over the past few weeks the city has been working on developing a plan to address our anticipated revenue shortfalls. We are not out of the woods yet, but I am feeling more comfortable that the plan that is being worked on will help guide our city through this crisis. Since the crisis, the city has lost recreation, casino, parking and conference revenues to name a few. Although we expect some of the lost revenues to eventually be recovered there is a significant portion that will just be lost. If you regularly follow our City Council, you will likely know we are not a fiscally conservative bunch, still I have been impressed on how the council team has understood the severity of the crisis and has been dedicated to work through these financial challenges. The result will be that many important projects will be put on pause and some service levels in the community will be temporarily reduced. Work on issues like climate change, affordable housing, sustainable transportation and reconciliation may be slowing down, but I know council will be eager to advance that work at the appropriate time. How we address those issues may be different post COVID-19, but I believe they will still be very important and relevant to our community. As we move out of the health crisis and start to think about recovery I think cities will also play a vital role to stimulate the economy. It is premature to be working on this now, but there will be a time when upper levels of government will be in a position to jump start stalled capital plans and partner with cities to build needed infrastructure.

As folks have likely heard, the financial situation at TransLink is very serious. The operation of our transit system is very much dependent on transit fares and the gas tax. Both of these revenue sources have declined significantly during the crisis and TransLink is now losing $75 million a month. Although transit ridership is down, our transit system is still playing an important role providing transportation options to those delivering and in need of essential services. To address the financial shortfalls TransLink has had to make the difficult decision to reduce transit service. Even with these significant cuts, the agency will still see revenue shortfalls in excess of $40 million a month. Partnerships are going to be needed with the provincial and federal government to ensure our public transit systems can survive and be a part of the recovery from this crisis.  

I know many people have been interested and worried about the financial challenges faced by cities and transit. I hope that this information gives some insight into the challenges and work that is being done to get through this. I am confident that both the city and TransLink will develop sustainable plans to work through the crisis, but it is not going to be easy. The services provided by local government are important to communities and it will be important that society advocates and continues to support the work local governments do in their communities.

Love

Jonathan Cote