During Monday’s phone-in council meeting, a package of temporary financial relief measures to offset hardships for local residents and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, was approved.
The measures include waiving penalties or interest charges related to taxes, water charges and accounts receivable, which would include rent for town facilities that are not closed. There was some question from councillors about delaying the rent payments themselves, but corporate services director Kyle Freeborn said it is only interest charges that are being waived.
Other measures include waiving any non-sufficient fund fees, not ticketing cars with expired parking passes, and not imposing a penalty for opting out or pausing an existing pre-authorized payment program.
Parking metre fees have been suspended, but it was made clear that’s for public safety, not to encourage visitors with an offer of free parking. Cleaning metres, explained interim CAO Sheldon Randall, would be more costly than the revenue that would be collected.
The financial relief report says potential lost revenues from parking, including revenue from meters, parking violations and permits, could be as high as $614,200.
Capital projects included in the budget to be funded by parking revenue, are vehicle replacement; the Nelson Street lot resurfacing; a community centre parking extension; work on the Centennial Arena parking lot; a new community centre front entrance design; and work on the old hospital parking lot. That comes to $465,000 of projects which will “most likely be put on pause,” Lord Mayor Betty Disero told councillors. Also possibly on hold would be $180,000 for the nursery school expansion, she said.
Randall said the effect of the “devastating impacts” to parking revenue is being discussed regularly. “We put a lot of projects into the parking revenue basket, so we can expect challenges there for sure, but at this point we don’t have the numbers,” he said. There may be some savings in contract staff, “but nowhere near what we’re losing.”
Coun. Allan Bisback received support for the lowering of 2020 short-term rental accommodation licensing fees to last year’s level, and giving a refund for those who have already paid the fee. The increase was intended to finance the hiring of two bylaw officers, but that will be put on hold.
Councillors asked for a larger discussion and a thorough review by the audit committee, line by line, of the 2020 budget to ensure the Town’s financial health is being considered, along with public safety. They were assured by Disero that while it may take a couple of weeks for a report from staff, it will be done as quickly as possible. She told councillors she is hoping the provincial and federal governments will be providing some financial relief to local governments.