WESTLOCK - In light of the impact of the coronavirus on personal and business income, Town of Westlock will waive utility penalty fees for 90 days starting April 1.
The bylaw was agreed upon by all councillors March 23. It amends the 2.5 per cent penalty to zero and they’ll revisit the situation in July.
The change applies to commercial and residential accounts, but councillors hope those who can afford to pay their utility bills will continue to do so.
“We still have the essential services that we need to provide that need to go on,” said mayor Ralph Leriger.
Those who pay their utility bills via automatic withdrawals must call the town office to discontinue payments if they can no longer afford to sustain them.
“We’ve seen many other utilities — electricity, natural gas — allow for a 90-day respite,” said CAO Simone Wiley.
On average, the town collects $1,300 per month in penalty fees, meaning the budget impact is an estimated $3,900.
“I would suggest it’s going to be larger than $3,900 simply because many people may not even be able to afford their utility bills in the next three months, based on job layoffs. It’s really only going to affect our bottom line, but I would expect our percentage of overdue accounts will rise rather dramatically,” said Coun. John Shoemaker.
In addition, a number of businesses across town have been forced to close their doors and lay off staff, some as early as last Monday.
On March 27, the provincial government announced a complete closure of non-essential retail, close contact services, and dine-in restaurants.
Take-out and drive-thru services, grocery and liquor stores all remain unaffected.
Property tax deferral?
Last Monday, the provincial government announced a six-month deferral on the school requisition tax for non-residential properties.
“The government expects municipalities to set education property tax rates as they normally would, but defer collection. Deferred amounts will be repaid in future tax years,” according to a statement from the government.
“I would also expect that we will probably look at something to do with taxes later on, when the tax bills are due in July,” added Shoemaker.
Leriger expects the calculations to be “a complicated matter” for municipalities, which would take administration some time to offer recommendations.
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