Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay city council approves COVID-19 relief

You can hold off on paying your property taxes for a few months, and don’t worry about getting around to paying that water bill - at least right away.
Thunder Bay city council approved a series of measures aimed at providing relief to ratepayers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

You can hold off on paying your property taxes for a few months, and don't worry about getting around to paying that water bill - at least right away.

City councillors in Thunder Bay approved a handful of measures on Monday night, aimed at reducing some of the financial pressure households may be feeling because of COVID-19.

One measure is to move the first installment of property taxes from May 6 to July 8. Homeowners who have a pre-authorized payment plan set up with the city, which is about 30 per cent of taxpayers, will have to contact the city to get their plans changed.

Administration said it would also consider moving back the August and October tax deadlines, dependent on the COVID-19 situation in June and later on in 2020.

The other major financial change approved on Monday is the elimination of late fees for water and wastewater bills. A 90-day grace period will now be allowed for those bills.

The two financial moves come at a cost though, along with a $235,000 emergency grant for community, youth and cultural programming. Thunder Bay city manager Norm Gale said the funding will be used by community groups that already receive funding from the city.

The total cost relating to tax deferrals, as well as waiving penalties on water bills, and other COVID-19 initiatives will cost the city $672,000.

Lost revenue from water bills this year could impact next year's water rate, administration said. The city is also seeing a large decline in water consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transit changes

The city's other measures, including free parking at meters and free public transit will also take about $80,000 and $420,000 out of city revenues per month.

Council also approved service reductions for transit, which will be implemented starting Sunday, April 5. The reductions will be determined by transit management, and can also be adjusted as needed during the provincial state of emergency because of staffing issues at the transit division.

City transit manager Brad Loroff told council the changes to service are also required because of a lack of ridership. He said during the week, trips were down by about 60 per cent, from an average of 19,500 riders per day, to about 7,800. Some routes were down by 80 per cent, he said.

The plan, at the moment, is to operate a service similar to the Sunday schedule, which would provide frequency on most routes every 45 minutes. Loroff said he hoped routes would start around 6 a.m. during the week, to accommodate those going to work. However, buses would stop running around 11 p.m.

Coun. Andrew Foulds was the lone council member to vote against the transit changes, noting he had one constituent who worked at Superstore, and needed to ride the bus to his workplace from Current River. He said the city needs to support those who require transit for work.

Gale acknowledged that the changes would be an inconvenience to some, but they were necessary.

Loroff said the transit changes were not just because of ridership, but that staff were calling in sick more often than normal, and transit cannot properly maintain its schedule.

He said drivers were also helping to clean buses, which was taking more time than normal. During regular operations, each bus would be given a "deep clean" on a weekly basis, while that is now being done daily.

Loroff said other changes at transit could include eliminating the front seats in all buses, to ensure passengers sit as far away from the driver as possible.

Coun. Aldo Ruberto asked about giving drivers gloves and masks - but Gale said that was not necessary, and that supplies are needed for front line healthcare workers.