Lost revenue and increased expenses due to the pandemic are continuing to impact the Town of Cochrane in the first quarter of 2021 but so far are have been offset by a government assistance grant and the tightening of town expenditures. 

Katherine Van Keimpema, the town's general manager of corporate services, estimates additional expenses, increased staffing and labour costs, and lost revenue will result in a $1,567,559 shortfall in the first quarter alone.

That includes completing a $660,000 upgrade to the town's information technology (IT) and phone systems to improve remote work functionality. Town council approved the expenditure on Jan. 25.

The first quarter shortfall is in addition to estimated revenue drops and COVID-related expenses of $2,072,000 in 2020.

The town has been allocated a $2,969,559 grant from a Municipal Operating Support Transfer (MOST) program announced in the fall by the provincial and federal government.

Van Keimpema says without the funding the town would have incurred a deficit in 2020. The town's 2020 financial statement is scheduled to be presented to council in April.

The balance of the town's MOST allocation can be utilized for COVID-related costs incurred until Mar. 31.

She told council the math works. The full $3.6 million shortfall is covered by the $2.9 million in MOST funding and $670,000 in spending reductions.

Van Keimpema made a case to upgrade the town's IT and phone systems.

"The current IT systems include operating software, telephones, servers, switches, processors, storage devices, networking equipment, and desktop equipment that, in many cases, is two to three times older than their expected, reliable operating life, and many are no longer supported by vendors," states her report to council.

Because of its age, she told council the phone system is at risk of failure and does not readily support remote work.

The pandemic has required many town employees, particularly office workers, to work remotely to conform to Alberta Health Services recommendations. Temporary solutions were patched together when the pandemic first hit, but now that remote work is expected to continue for some time, she said more permanent, reliable, and secure solutions are urgently needed.

The cost of the upgrades will be covered by MOST funding.