Saanich will temporarily remove penalties for late utility bill payments in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During Saanich council’s first electronic meeting on March 31, councillors reviewed a report from the director of finance, Valla Tinney, advising that council temporarily do away with the five per cent penalty for late bill payments on utilities, water, garbage and green bin service – council unanimously agreed.
The decision came out of an effort to alleviate some of the financial stress on Saanich families and businesses, Mayor Fred Haynes said. He pointed out that, for many, COVID-19 has become a financial crisis as well as a health crisis.
Normally, those who pay their utility bills more than 45 days late receive the penalty, Haynes explained. The District expects to lose approximately $15,000 per month.
Municipalities are limited in the actions they can take to provide financial relief, he said, but removing penalties for late bills is permitted. In addition, council approved a core budget for 2020 which will see a tax increase of 3.74 per cent rather than the 7.2 per cent residents would have seen if the full proposed budget – including all the desired projects – had been approved. This core budget will allow Saanich to maintain services while reducing the burden on residents during the pandemic.
Haynes said the municipality is trusting that Saanich residents who can still pay their utility bills, will.
“If your financial circumstances haven’t been affected by COVID-19, we encourage you to continue to pay on time,” he said.
In-person utility bill payments are not currently permitted as Saanich Municipal Hall is closed to the public, but payments can be made online, at the bank, through pre-authorized withdrawal, by mail or at the 24-hour drop box outside municipal hall.
As for upcoming property taxes, any decision to extend eligibility for tax deferral rests with the provincial government as they administer the property tax deferral program. The rules for property tax deadlines and penalties are also established by the province through the Community Charter and Regulations.