COVID-19 Updates: Taking steps to return to normal.
The Municipal Operating Support Transfer funding is fully committed and the program is now closed.
Municipalities experienced significant financial impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada provided operating funding support to municipalities through the Municipal Operating Support Transfer (MOST). This funding was provided as part of the Safe Restart Agreement.
This program supported municipalities by funding incremental costs and reduced revenues associated with the pandemic and actions taken in response to it.
- $436 million was shared by all municipalities in Alberta based on their population, including $10 million reserved for the tourism communities of Banff, Jasper and Canmore.
- $140 million was shared by municipalities with public transit systems based on annual ridership statistics.
- $30 million was previously allocated to municipalities as part of the 2020 Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) Operating program, with greatly expanded flexibility for the use of the 2020 program funds.
Municipalities and Metis Settlements were automatically eligible for MOST, and only needed to sign a simple funding agreement to access their funds. No applications were required.
Our goal was to ensure municipalities were able to use MOST funding to offset fiscal challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, without unnecessary red tape.
We recognized that not all municipalities had the resources and capacity to accurately track pandemic-related fiscal impacts as they were occurring.
We recommended that municipalities use invoices, timesheets, and other accounting tools that were part of typical municipal business practices to identify increased expenses, use year-to-year comparisons for reduced revenues, and retain these records in case they were required to meet unanticipated federal reporting requirements. We did not require detailed proof of expenses incurred or revenue lost.
Each municipality that received MOST funding received a statement of funding and expenditure form and was required to submit this form to us by July 2, 2021.
Determining lost revenue
We recommended a comparison of revenue in areas such as, but not limited to, user fees, building permits, or property tax collection rates decreased during the pandemic period compared to the same period in the previous year.
Alternatively, the comparison could be between a 2020 budget passed prior to the pandemic and a budget amended in response to the pandemic.
Municipalities were not required to provide comparative data in the statement of funding and expenditures process but were encouraged to use these approaches to develop an estimate of COVID-19-related revenue impacts. Municipalities were asked to retain this information even though it was not required to be submitted.
Municipalities were not required to provide proof that costs were linked to COVID-19.
To determine whether a staffing cost was associated with COVID-19, we encouraged municipalities to consider the decision that led to the costs, such as management approval for overtime and hiring decisions, then determine whether that decision would have been made differently in the absence of COVID-19.
It was best practice to retain records associated with these decisions, but we did not require them for the MOST program.
Distributing funds to others
Any contributions municipalities made to fund another entity, including another municipality, a regional entity, a housing management body, a local economic development agency or a non-profit organization were eligible for MOST funding if the decision could be reasonably linked to COVID-19.
For example, a municipality might use MOST funding to contribute to an agricultural society that operated the local arena for a purpose related to COVID-19.
Unpaid property taxes
Any property taxes from the 2020 property tax year that remained uncollected as of March 31, 2021 were eligible as lost revenue and MOST funding could be used to compensate.
There was no need to write off these unpaid taxes and municipalities were required to continue with all available tax collection methods. Later collection of the taxes did not retroactively impact MOST funding.
MOST funding could be used to off-set forgiven property taxes.
COVID-19-related capital expenses
While MOST funding was described as operating funding, it could be used for a very broad range of expenses associated with the pandemic response, including some that might be considered capital in some smaller municipalities.
This included small renovations to add a barrier to a customer-facing reception area or purchase of camera equipment to broadcast council meetings.
MOST funding might not be used to pay employees who were on the payroll before COVID-19 since they were part of the operation of the municipality.
However, incremental expenditures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic were eligible. For example, a municipality might use MOST funding if an employee was seconded to an emergency operations centre and a temporary employee was hired to backfill them.
If an employee had additional COVID-19-related cleaning duties and then required overtime to fulfill their normal duties, then the overtime costs could be eligible under MOST.
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