White Rock council has given initial readings to a 2020 financial plan amended to reflect the multi-million dollar impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the city budget – but also to give some relief to all taxpayers, offering the ability to defer taxes by three months to Sept. 30.
While it could have adopted the bylaw at Monday night’s meeting, council decided to to hold off for one week for public input – including written submissions – before giving a final vote on May 4.
After Coun. Erika Johanson questioned what was being done in place of a public hearing on the bylaw, chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill suggested that members of the public be allowed to communicate by email or correspondence and that “prior to making final adoption of the bylaw, you would have an opportunity to review those comments and questions.”
Bottrill also suggested that the deadline for written submission be noon on May. 4.
The financial plan is the basis for this year’s property tax and utility rates bylaw, which must be adopted before May 15.
Estimates summarized in a report to council by financial services director Colleen Ponzini show decreased revenues (including parking, facilities and program revenues, investment interest and business licences and permits) of some $3,096,600.
Offsetting this are expenses decreased by lack of activity due to the pandemic (including spending on parking services, recreation and programs, parks operation and planning) amounting to $1,299,600.
That leaves a total estimated net loss to August 2020 of $1,797,000 – which staff recommended come out of the city’s accumulated surplus reserve, reducing that by around 42 per cent for this year. Some $16 million in scheduled improvement projects will also have to be carried forward, Ponzini’s report said.
“Staff provided their best estimates, assuming that we are likely to be impacted until the end of August,” she told council.
The province has reduced its school tax mill rates to achieve an average 25 per cent reduction in commercial property taxes, and granted an extension allowing commercial taxpayers to defer tax payment until Sept. 30 with no penalty.
Since city processes for billing taxes, levies and utility rates make it difficult to separate different classes of property, council also endorsed a staff recommendation of extending the Sept. 30 deadline to all taxpayers, including residential property owners.
The exception would be quarterly water utility payments, which are billed separately and for which council has already given a 60-day deadline extension.
The report suggested the change will create a cash-flow issue for the city, as it is likely that many taxpayers in all categories will use the extension, but added that this is partially offset by the province allowing school tax levies to be turned over by the end of December, instead of in August.
“We do believe we will be able to manage the delay with no other impacts,” Ponzini said.
“This is an estimate of what we believe is probably going to happen,” Bottrill cautioned.
“Reality is always going to be a little bit different than the estimate. At this point we are comfortable that these are pretty good numbers to move forward with.”