Taxpayer tab for golf course, outdoor closures in GTA more than $1.34 million
TORONTO -- The cost of COVID-19 restrictions that are keeping GTA outdoor amenities closed is at least $1.34 million, according to numbers provided by several municipalities, as high sign printing costs and lost revenue at municipal golf courses pushes them into the hole.
The costs would be worth it to keep people safe, municipal politicians say. But Ontario’s own science advisors didn’t recommend the restrictions -- one reason the City of Toronto’s Board of Health moved to formally ask the province to rescind the measures.
“I think it’s such a waste of money,” said Councillor Josh Matlow.
“I believe the province should withdraw them immediately,' he said of the outdoor restrictions. "They weren’t based on science. They weren’t in the interests of public health.”
At the Board of Health, municipal councillors passed a motion by Kate Mulligan to “reopen outdoor recreation amenities, which were closed under provincial order… in a manner that ensures access to the outdoors alongside rigorous safety measures.”
The provincial order, implemented on April 17, closed outdoor amenities including baseball, soccer, basketball, frisbee golf, and golf courses. The policy wasn’t recommended by the province’s own science table, which said outdoor activity is relatively safe.
CTV News asked major Toronto-area municipalities for the costs of enforcing the outdoor measures. They mainly broke down into two categories: the cost of signage and the lost revenue.
Printing signs cost about $18,000 in Toronto, $14,000 in Mississauga, and $5,200 in Richmond Hill, cities reported. All the cities’ responses added up to at least $45,000 throughout the region.
Lost revenue in Toronto public golf courses was an estimated $35,000 a day. Throughout the region, it was around double that — around $62,000 a day.
Add it all up, and the restrictions have cost GTA cities at least $1.34 million dollars.
That doesn’t include some responses that were more general. For example, the City of Brampton told CTV News it forecast a revenue loss of approximately $2.1 million in 2021 for the continued closure of golf and outdoor field rentals.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said her city was losing some $145,000 a week from lost golf course revenue, but added that the city is also losing permit fees and other facility rentals as well.
“I will be asking as I have in the past couple of weeks for the safe reopening of our outdoor and recreational amenities, safely backed by science,” she said.
Her city faces a steep deficit this year, as it did last year, as major sources of city revenue continue to be dry during the pandemic. Cities aren’t allowed to run deficits, she said, and Mississauga faces a deficit in the tens of millions again this year even after measures like layoffs to cut costs.
“At the end of the day, we will be appealing to different levels of government to get assistance with our operational deficit,” she said.
The provincial government said it has provided over $1 billion in revenue directly, and more through an agreement between the federal and provincial governments.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the government has provided municipalities approximately $4 billion in one-time funding to help them among the challenges of COVID-19 through the federal-provincial Safe Restart Agreement,” the statement said.
Avid golfer Jay Melhoff decided if he wasn’t able to go to a golf course, he would hit some balls in the field under high-voltage power lines in North York.
“It’s allows people like me to cope and have some bit of normalcy in a safe way,” he said.
He said he feels angry and disappointed that the courses remain closed, but he hoped political leaders would let people golf.
“We’re Canadians at the end of the day. If you say, ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake,’ Canadians will say, ‘We all make mistakes.”