Rebates, fee cuts as local councils give financial break
COVID-19 shutdown prompts local governments to rethink fees for housebound, unemployed
The Region of Waterloo will waive late payment charges on water and wastewater utility bills, as well as all other residential and non-residential accounts, until the end of May.
Councillors voted in favour of the move as a way to help residents affected by job losses and reduced income during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councillors, who met via conference call on Tuesday morning, also voted in favour of suspending water shutoffs and waiving all non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees until the end of May.
Coun. Sean Strickland noted revenue is down for transit, waste management, red light cameras, fines imposed by courts and the airport right now.
At the same time, he said, the region is paying more for public health, a strategy to help people who are homeless and paramedics.
"We haven't been able to establish what the financial impacts are going to be, but nonetheless, I think it's fair to say that they will be significant and they will be, likely, the most significant financial impacts that we've experienced as a regional government," Strickland said.
Region has 'rainy day' funds
Craig Dyer, the chief financial officer for the Region of Waterloo, told councillors his staff is already working on its next report to council on what the region needs to do "in the very near future" and provide detailed financial analysis.
That is expected to include the impact of deferring taxes for residents should council decide to do so.
Dyer said the region currently has $15 million in a stabilization reserve fund. That's one of the "tools" the region can look at if there's a deficit in 2020, he said.
Regional Chair Karen Redman pointed out previous councils put money into that reserve fund for a reason.
"This is a rainy day and this is exactly what those funds are for," she said.
Regional councillors are scheduled for committee meetings on April 14 and a council meeting on April 22. All meetings for the time being are being held via conference call, and those calls are being streamed on the council's YouTube channel.
Kitchener offers financial 'flexibility'
The City of Kitchener passed financial measures to offer financial "flexibility" for residents and businesses, the city said in a release after Monday night's meeting.
- Waiving penalties and interest charges for property tax and utility payments until May 31, while collection notices and disconnections for utilities will also be suspended.
- Considering giving tenants of city-owned commercial spaces, such as the Kitchener Market, a reduction in lease and license payments.
- Allowing businesses to defer paying annual business licence fees.
- Monthly parking customers will receive a rebate of permit fees between March 16 and April 6 and they will be able to retain their parking permit.
The city said staff will also work with the region to "identify opportunities to further support local businesses and employees." That may include webinars and training programs to help local businesses apply for federal and provincial aid money.
Scott Davey, chair of the city's finance and corporate services committee, said in the release the city "will continue to collaborate with government and business partners to ensure that area families and entrepreneurs can access all of the various supports on offer."
City of Waterloo commits $750,000
Late Wednesday afternoon, the City of Waterloo unveiled the financial relief measures that councillors passed earlier that day — totalling $750,000.
Similar to measures announced by the City of Kitchener on Monday, the City of Waterloo announced it would:
- Waive late payment charges on property taxes, water and wastewater utility bills, as well as all other residential and non-residential accounts for the months of April and May. That includes permits, licenses and rent.
- Suspend collections on overdue accounts for the months of April and May.
- Waive NSF fees for the months of April and May.
- Waive parking fees for April.
The city also said people would be issued credits for any cancelled programs and services.
Noting the pandemic is "unlike anything most of us have ever experienced," Counc. Jeff Henry called on landlords to be compassionate and flexible and "if they are accessing any financial breaks that they pass savings on [to tenants] as appropriate."
Cambridge measures to June 1
Cambridge council Wednesday voted to implement financial relief measures for residents for April and May.
The moves include waiving interest, penalties, late payment fees and other charges resulting from property tax and water bills. The city will also suspend any pending water meter disconnections and, to assist landlords, halt transfer of tenants' overdue water accounts to property owners' tax bills.
Cambridge will also ease "enforcement of parking, including, on and off street parking time limits, paid parking and core area parking lots," the city said in a release Wednesday.
Also included in the Cambridge measures: the waiving of interest on invoices, deferment of business licence renewal fees and suspension of rent from farmers' market vendors and other leased properties owned by the city.
Cambridge will also suspend the NSF fee for returned payments until June 1.
"We won't know the full impacts of COVID-19 for some time but we know people are already hurting, and our Economic Response Plan will help them," the release stated.
Guelph waives NSF charges, transit free for April
Guelph put into place similar measures during its meeting Monday night.
The city will waive parking permit fees for April, waive transit fees for the entire month of April as well.
People won't be charged property tax penalties or interest that would normally be applied as of May 1. The city will waive any NSF charges and stop all "progressive collection activities" until April 30, the city said in a release.
As well, businesses and residents can defer pre-authorized debit plans for the month of April if they send in a written request at least 10 days before the automatic payment is set to come out of their bank accounts.
In a release, Mayor Cam Guthrie noted "council's decisions don't defer property taxes due April 30, but they reflect an honest effort to mitigate the financial impact for families and businesses."