Public washrooms at area beaches open Friday, Greater Sudbury has announced, as the city gradually restores services as part of the province's Phase 2 restart plans. (File photo)

Mayors of the biggest cities in Ontario are joining a Canada-wide call for a $10 billion emergency aid package from upper levels of government to avoid major tax increases and service cuts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger said communities across the province are struggling as costs increase and revenues decline.

"What's clear is that Greater Sudbury is just one of many cities across Ontario that are feeling a lot of financial pain from COVID-19," Bigger said in a statement Monday. "I am hopeful the province will continue to support municipalities and ensure we are all able to provide for our citizens and continue to operate effectively.

"We're relying on the provincial government to work with the federal government to play a leading role in this effort in providing municipalities, including ours, the much needed funding we require."

Sudbury is part of the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO), chaired by Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie. In a joint statement Monday, the mayors said communities desperately need emergency financial support.

Residents can't wait

"Ontario municipalities are speaking with one voice to deliver one important message: our residents cannot wait any longer," the statement said. "To protect municipal services, we need immediate provincial and federal support to cover lost revenue and additional costs caused by the COVID-19 crisis."

The call for action by Ontario municipalities is part of a national effort, led by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to secure at least $10 billion dollars in emergency relief for Canadian municipalities to be funded 100 per cent by the federal and provincial governments.

"Municipalities across Ontario have been on the frontlines of keeping people safe during COVID-19," the statement said. "This has meant hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs and lost revenues. The FCM proposal would provide approximately $4 billion to Ontario municipalities to offset lost transit revenues and added service costs, but so far, there has been no clear signal on the timing and level of a joint federal-provincial financial assistance program."

Now halfway through the budget year, municipalities in Ontario have no choice but to consider plans to balance the budget by raising property taxes, user fees and charges or cutting services, the statement said.

Programs under threat

"We truly appreciate the commitments that both Premier (Doug) Ford and Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau have already made to support municipal service delivery during this crisis," the statement said. "Our residents need support now. The time is up for federal-provincial wrangling about how to share the costs. We strongly encourage the federal government to address this in their fiscal update this week.”

Without the emergency assistance, LUMCO said several programs and services are under threat:

- supports to children, families and seniors,

- reducing or cancelling transit services,

- staffing adjustments including layoffs and delaying or cancelling hiring,

- reducing essential services including public health, fire, paramedic and police services,

- closing parks and cultural sites and cancelling recreation programs,

- slower land use planning reviews and development approvals, and

- cancelling or deferring critical infrastructure and affordable housing projects, costing construction jobs.

"By acting now to confirm relief for municipalities, senior governments can avoid these unforeseen property tax increases and destructive cuts to frontline municipal services," the statement said. "Cuts or property tax increases will unfairly hurt the very same people that the federal and provincial governments have spent billions helping during the pandemic."