City of Ottawa bracing for revenues, workforce to shrink as coronavirus spreads

The City of Ottawa is exploring how to limit its spending and perhaps shrink its operations to only essential services as the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak threatens its finances, workforce and ability to rally resources to respond to the pandemic.

The city’s carefully-planned revenues are “already declining at a rapid pace”, according to the city manager, who said Wednesday that the spread of COVID-19 has thrown senior city staff into unchartered waters.

“This is the first time I can remember, in the 25 years I’ve been involved in emergencies, that it’s very difficult to project what the circumstances are going to be to be able to mitigate and what steps we have to take to be able to recover,” Steve Kanellakos said.

“It’s changing day-to-day and we’re trying our best to look forward and focus on the right things.”

The top bureaucrat’s remarks came soon after Mayor Jim Watson declared a state emergency on the City of Ottawa over the novel coronavirus during council’s first virtual meeting.

Two major resources the city is mobilizing to protect in the face of COVID-19 are the city’s cash flow and its workforce, Kanellakos said on Wednesday. Revenues from multiple sources — ranging from transit fares to income from renting city facilities — are decreasing as people follow health officials’ orders to stay home and away from other people.

Wendy Stephanson, the city’s chief financial officer, said she’s already started a “deep dive” into the city’s expenses to see where spending can be trimmed, stopped or deferred to a later date.

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The city has also struck a “business continuity” task force made up of “key senior leaders” to work the “longer-term view” for Ottawa — namely financial forecasts, schedules for staff work rotations and supports for essential city services and emergency needs.

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