By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
The Town of Coaldale is waiving utility late fees and deferring tax payments in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Discussed during a special council meeting on March 30, council passed several measures to help residents and businesses cope during the pandemic, which has seen many businesses face reduced hours or closures as social distancing measures are put in place.
Council passed the following motions: that council reduce the non-payment charges on utilities, for April, May, and June of 2020 from 1.5 per cent per month to zero per cent, excluding existing outstanding charges prior to March 31, 2020; to direct administration to adjust the date for tax collection from June 30, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2020, with the understating that tax notices be sent out in May 2020 as previously planned; to direct administration to deal with previous tax arrears in the same fashion as the arrears associated with utility payments; to reduce the non-payment penalty applied to outstanding balances after the tax collection date from 9 per cent to 4.5 per cent in a split 4-3 vote, with coun.(s) Doreen Lloyd, Jacen Abrey and Roger Hohm opposed; to eliminate the planned 2 per cent increase in the non-residential tax rate; to officially support administration’s participation in the Regional Economic Recovery Task Force and authorize administration to allocate resources within the existing budget to that initiative as required; and recognizing the continuously changing nature of the existing economic environment, to support the diversion of resources within the existing budget towards local initiatives designed to support the local business community or at-risk residents through the Economic Development department and their designates as required and that Administration will report back to Council as initiatives are implemented.
Utility payment late fees only for the months of April, May and June have been waived, and council will be looking at it again prior to July in case the waivments need to be extended.
With the tax deadline extension to September, Cameron Mills, manager of economic and community development for the town, said that for people who participate in the town’s monthly installment plans, there will be no automatic changes, and he encourages those on the monthly plan who are facing some financial difficulty can call our tax specialist to make alternative payment arrangements. Residents who pay taxes through their mortgage would need to make arrangements through their lender if they require assistance. The town encourages anyone who can pay their taxes in June to do so.
However, with the reduction of the planned increase for the non-residential tax rate, this means that there will now be zero tax increases, both for residential and non-residential rates, for the town.
“Council committed last year to no residential tax increases for a period of two years and they reaffirmed that position.Our business tax rate will remain unchanged and will continue to be the lowest in the region, approximately 40 per cent lower than Lethbridge,” said Mills. “This is really a recognition of the tremendous economic impact that COVID-19 has already had on our residents and businesses; both council and administration are aligned on the need to do what we can to help. Adjusting non-payment penalties focuses our assistance on those that need it most, and pushing back the deadline for when taxes are due ensures that residents and businesses aren’t necessarily faced with a property tax bill when their cashflows are impacted most.”
Council supporting the town’s participate in the Regional Economic Recovery Task Force, to help get the business community back on it’s feet.
“The economic health and recovery of our community, and region, are of utmost importance to Council,” said Kim Craig, mayor of Coaldale. “That is why we believe it is important that the Town of Coaldale does its part in contributing to the economic success of our region over the coming days, weeks, and months ahead. With that being said, council is committed towards executing the capital projects as outlined in our 2019-2021 Capital Plan to provide the economic stimulus that is necessary for the regions’ recovery.”
The town plans on going ahead with planned capital projects approved in their 2020-2021 Capital Budget, which include the Main Street Infrastructure Replacement and Revitalization project due to be tendered in April 2020; paved pathway project throughout Coaldale due to be tendered in April; Civic Square project, a multi-use commercial office building in downtown Coaldale, which is to be awarded to a development group in April 2020; and the Multi-Use Recreation Centre, with the detailed design to take place between now and September 2020, and a tender for construction package to follow.
“Council reaffirmed their commitment to carry on with the major capital projects such as main street reconstruction and the new recreation complex,” said Mills. “The town is always committed to health and safety for our workers and contractors, and we will continue to promote the highest standard of safe work practices during these projects.”
Mills noted that from an operation standpoint, there will be reductions in annual revenues from a number of sources, such as interest earned on taxes collected in June. However, they estimate that the changes can be absorbed within the current operating budget in order to maintain the financial stewardship town council identified as a strategic priority.
“Closure of some facilities that are of the greatest concern regarding the potential to spread the virus, coupled with the uncertainty associated with the length of time that aggressive physical distancing measures will be in place, means that there may be built in expense reductions associated with our operations this year. The town is fortunate in that we’ve been quite diligent in keeping our operation lean for several years now and as a result of that we’re in good shape financially. We expect to be able to meet our operational goals for the year and look forward to continuing to provide a high, if somewhat altered, standard of service to our residents.”
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