The City of Port Alberni will be providing some financial relief for its utility customers and leaseholders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
City council voted during a meeting on Tuesday, April 14 to defer water and sewer payments and remove interest charges for the 2020 calendar year.
Interest will be reversed on bills that were due in February, and bills that are due in June and September will be pushed to September and December instead. No interest will be charged in 2020.
Sewer and water rates were scheduled to increase by two percent and five percent respectively this September, but council has voted to defer this rate increase to September 2021, instead.
Financial manager Andrew McGifford said on Tuesday that the removal of interest charges will affect the five-year financial plan, but because these payments usually go into the city’s water and sewer fund, there will be no impact to taxation.
Mayor Sharie Minions explained that the city’s water and sewer rates help the city with funding capital projects and infrastructure renewal. This includes the city’s new wastewater treatment plant, which needed some extra funding earlier this year.
“I think right now we are more focused on providing short-term relief to the taxpayers of our community,” she added.
“This is a different time right now,” Councillor Cindy Solda agreed.
Council also voted on Tuesday to defer interest payments on city leases and property nuisance bylaw offences during the 2020 calendar year.
McGifford explained that the city is not able to waive lease payments, and encouraged leaseholders instead to reach out to financial support from the federal and provincial governments. The impact of deferred interest payments on the financial plan will be “very small,” he added. Following the conclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic, city staff will work with leaseholders to establish a payment schedule.
Minions pointed out that this will not stop the city from ticketing business owners.
“It wouldn’t get rid of the tickets,” she added. “They wouldn’t go to collections right now and they wouldn’t have interest charged on them.”
Port Alberni is not the only municipality offering some financial relief for its residents. During a board meeting on Wednesday, April 8, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District voted to remove penalties for overdue water payments and airport lease payments for the next three months.
Port Alberni Councillor Debbie Haggard said on Tuesday that she hopes other property owners in town are working with their leaseholders, as well.
“We want to keep as many businesses in our community open as possible,” she said.