Edmonton

Edmonton looking at property tax deferrals, Iveson says

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson says the city is working with the province on a move to defer property taxes due to economic pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

No state of local emergency needed at this time, mayor says

Mayor Don Iveson speaks to media Wednesday about the latest measures to be taken by the city in the COVID-19 crisis. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson says the city is working with the province on a move to defer property taxes and possibly utility bills due to economic pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The city takes those looming bills very seriously and understands paying them will be a challenge," Iveson said Wednesday at a news conference. "So we will come up with relief on property taxes and, ideally, utilities.

"We do hear the concerns of business in our community. Employers and entrepreneurs are under a tremendous amount of stress right now."

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney answered one of the mayor's requests later Wednesday, announcing that households, farms and small business customers will be able to defer bill payments for electricity and natural gas bills for the next 90 days. They won't be cut off from these services.

The reprieve will cover utility bills regardless of the service provider, the premier said. 

Iveson said the city is working through details of a tax-deferral plan in co-ordination with the City of Calgary, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the provincial government.

No state of local emergency 'at this time'

The city has decided not to declare a state of local emergency but could revisit that with one hour's notice, the mayor said following Wednesday's meeting of the emergency advisory committee.

"At this time it's our belief the situation does not currently warrant such action on behalf of the city," Iveson said.

"Our council at this point wants to save those extraordinary measures for truly extraordinary circumstances. These are already that ... but they are covered by the provincial orders that are in place."

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin said if city officials start to see retailers engage in price gouging, the city would be able to declare a state of local emergency and then step in to stop it.

Declaring a state of local emergency would also give the city the power to restrict travel, distribute essential supplies, evacuate people and animals.

Homeless help

Iveson said he sees "tremendous urgency" around the need to help people who are homeless during the pandemic.

"They're not able to observe social distancing and so an outbreak in that community would be an avoidable public health tragedy." 

There is space in private and public buildings, including dormitories and hotels that aren't being used, conference centres and recreation centres," the mayor said. 

"We need to activate some facilities."

The city is evaluating facilities and waiting to hear how it can move forward with promised funding from the federal and provincial governments, announced this week, Iveson said.

"The resources are starting to flow. What would be very helpful at this point would be clear empowerment from the provincial government to stand up the kind of facilities and response that is needed."

Iveson said he's been told that provincial agencies and ministries are sorting out the details. It would involve coordinating with AHS with support from community and social services to put additional public health measures in place.

60 transit workers self-isolating

The emergency advisory committee also heard that 60 Edmonton Transit employees are self-isolating.

Laughlin said it's not clear what positions the employees hold, adding that ETS has 1,700 staff. 

"If not feeling well, they're where they're supposed to be right now — which is not coming to work, and staying home," he said. 

The committee also discussed the city's decision to scale back Edmonton Transit buses and trains to Saturday service, which created problems for commuters on Tuesday. Transit service has since been bumped up on some routes.

The move to reduce to Saturday service was chosen because it "is commonly understood and easily found on our website," Laughlin said.

He said transit ridership has fallen more than 50 per cent since March 8.

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