Victoria council implemented a number of financial relief measures on April 9 to assist those struggling due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Significant and long-awaited decisions were made, said Mayor Lisa Helps.
During a committee of the whole meeting that began at 9 a.m. on April 9, council made a number of decisions to provide relief to residents.
“We know that many people in the community right now – both individuals and business owners– are hurting and struggling economically and we also don’t know how long this will go on so at the city we have some tools available to help us,” Helps explained.
First, council made the “difficult decision” to do away with the property tax increase for 2020, she said. This means property taxes will stay the same as 2019.
The zero per cent tax increase will mean new municipal projects will be deferred, Helps said, but those already underway will not be affected.
The due date for these property tax payments has also been extended to Aug. 4 – the latest possible date, she said.
Additionally, for late property tax payments, council approved a graduated penalty of two per cent per month from August to December, Helps added. Typically, the penalty is five per cent on July 1 and on Aug. 1.
“We have to have a penalty,” Helps explained, but this will reduce the burden on those who need to pay their taxes late.
Council also doubled the grace period for utility bill payments to 90 days, Helps said. This will be implemented as of the next utility bill.
“This is about between a $2- and $3-million relief package that’s being provided,” she said. “The [utility] bills still do have to be paid, but we won’t be charging penalties.”
Council took “small measures” today, Helps said, adding that Victoria is relying on the province for further financial relief measures for residents and business owners as municipalities cannot run a deficit.
Helps said council hopes the province will reinstate the property tax deferment program and extend it to commercial properties. She added the City will also be asking the province to amend the homeowner grant to increase amounts and create a new grant category for those struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that the province is working just as hard as they can to support local governments so that we can support you,” Helps said.
Despite making cuts to the 2020 budget – including deferring $21.8 million in construction projects which will be picked up at a later date – many of Victoria’s construction projects focused on preserving existing infrastructure and making safety improvements will continue as planned, Helps said. She noted that specifically, projects slated for the downtown core will move forward while the roads are quieter.
She added that projects that have already been started will not be stopped so the City will still have $80 million in capital projects moving forward.
“The capital projects that we undertake put money directly back into the local economy so I think today council has really struck a balance between reducing spending where necessary but continuing to invest in much-needed infrastructure and creating much-needed jobs,” Helps said.
She added that council will revisit the 2020 budget in July to see what adjustments need to be made and if further relief can be provided for residents and business owners.