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LOOMING CRISIS: Canandaigua under hiring freeze, Council considers estimated 20% reduction in revenue

On Thursday, Canandaigua City Council held its regularly scheduled April meeting. As is becoming the norm for government entities in the wake of COVID-19, Council met via video conference call. The Council’s meeting focused on the COVID-19 crisis.

Canandaigua City Manager John Goodwin reported on the City’s response to COVID-19.  Goodwin stated that most city facilities were closed, but that residents could drop off payments and correspondence via the drop box at the side of city hall. Goodwin also said that City staff could be contacted via email. Goodwin emphasized that emergency services remained operational, and that other essential services were staffed at operational levels. 

The City of Canandaigua strongly encouraged residents to remain home and practice appropriate social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis. Several Councilmembers noted that they had seen teens not following the protocols, particularly in parks.  Goodwin indicated that he was aware of the issue and stated that if residents do not begin following the social distancing protocols in parks the City would be forced to close all parks for the duration of the crisis.

Goodwin acknowledged to the Council that the crisis would cause a financial strain on the City.  He estimated a 20% reduction in revenue.  Goodwin placed the City under a hiring freeze and may limit the hiring of seasonal staff.  Goodwin also paused all City capital projects that had not started. 

Councilmembers reacted to the COVID-19 economic concerns by tabling two resolutions until the full impact of COVID-19 is better understood.

First, the Council considered a resolution that authorized a budget amendment and awarded a contract to Impact Earth for a government operations greenhouse gas inventory, a natural resources inventory, and a climate vulnerability assessment.  50% of the $55,875 cost of these programs would have been paid for with funds from the Climate Smart Communities Grant Program. However, this resolution would have authorized $27,937.50 from the City’s 2020 budget contingency fund to pay for the City’s 50% portion of the program costs. Councilmembers expressed concerns that they should not be dipping into the reserve fund, particularly given the hiring freeze, to pay for non-urgent expenses until the full financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis is known. Councilmember Renee Sutton (At-Large) passionately argued that this project was an urgent project and expense because of the climate crisis. Sutton argued that the resolution should be approved and should not be tabled. Several Councilmembers agreed with Sutton’s position. But ultimately, in a close vote, the Council tabled the resolution. The Council asked that City staff check with the grant funder to determine if there are any options available to delay this program until additional City funding is available. The council will re-examine the issue once City staff determines whether or not the grant funder will allow the project to be delayed.

The council also unanimously voted to table for later consideration a resolution that would have authorized a budget amendment and awarded a contract to MRB Group for grant writing services. This resolution would have authorized the transfer of $6,500 from the contingency fund to pay for grant writing services to seek a grant for $10 million for downtown revitalization funding. The resolution was presented because the City has sought this funding in the past and has not been successful. It was believed that the services of a professional grant writer would improve the City’s chances of obtaining the funding. However, Councilmembers believed that the contingency fund should remain intact until the financial impact of COVID-19 is more clear.  In addition, City staff indicated that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, it is unclear if the State will be offering this funding again this year. Staff also stated that if the funding does end-up in the State budget, the City still has its previous application information that could once again be submitted.

The Council also considered several resolutions directly related to the COVID-19 crisis.

First, the council considered a resolution authorizing a mutual aid agreement with the Fisher’s Fire Department. The mutual aid agreement would allow the City of Canandaigua Fire Department and the Fisher’s Fire Department to share crews if either Department were to have staff quarantined because of COVID-19.  City Manager Goodwin assured Councilmembers that the intent of the agreement is that it would result in no added costs to either jurisdiction because since it is for services directly related to the COVID-19 State and National emergency, all costs would be reimbursable from the Federal Government. The resolution was unanimously approved.

The council also addressed COVID-19 related concerns of some local businesses with two resolutions. First, the Council unanimously approved a 90-day loan forbearance for small businesses with loans from the City’s Small Business Development Loan Program. Second, the Council also unanimously approved a resolution that authorized a three-month deferral of rent for the Twisted Rail Brewing Company related to their lease of the Muar House. The deferred rent will be spread out over the remaining period of the lease.

The Council also considered and unanimously approved a resolution that authorized refunding all special event fees for events that were cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

The Council unanimously approved three resolutions that were not related to the COVID-19 crisis.

  First, the Council approved the award of a contract to Joule Assets to serve as the City’s third-party administrator for the Community Choice Aggregation Program for electricity services.

The Council also approved a resolution to create real property tax liens for individuals who are delinquent in paying water and sewer bills, snow removal fees, fire inspection fees, solid waste collection fees, and code enforcement fees. This resolution was unanimously approved despite Councilmembers Sutton’s and Karen White’s (3rd Ward), concerns that although these delinquencies were accrued well before the COVID-19 crisis, this action may cause some to believe that the Council is favoring businesses over homeowners during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Council also approved a resolution that authorized a budget amendment to upgrade the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at the water treatment plant.  The amendment for this project was necessary to add a drain in the electrical room.  The resolution funded this project by transferring $1000 from the filter flow meter replacement project to the HVAC project.

The Council’s next meeting was scheduled for Thursday May 7, 2020. The location of the meeting was dependent on the status of the COVID-19 crisis. 



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