Ponoka town council approved two motions during its regular meeting on April 14 via a Zoom meeting, to direct administration to deliver a zero per cent property tax increase in the final budget, and approving a property tax relief program.
The final budget will come before council for approval in May. The interim 2020 budget that was approved by council last November included a 2.7 per cent property tax increase.
“However, due to the economic impacts being caused by COVID-19 and the crash in oil prices, the objective is now to present a final budget with a zero per cent tax increase while ensuring the town continues to have sufficient funding and cash flow to provide essential services,” the town stated in a news release.
“Administration expects that a zero per cent property tax increase will be achievable due to some of the cost reductions that are being realized during the pandemic,” said Albert Flootman, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).
The closure of recreational facilities last month due to COVID-19, along with reductions in travel, an increase in online meetings, and not filling staff vacancies for non-essential positions are resulting in reduced costs.
During the meeting, Sandra Lund, general manager of corporate services, stated that the town received its final assessment, and even though this year the market decreased across the board, the town realized an overall assessment increase of $4.4 million .
“With holding the line at the same mill rate as last year, we will be fine,” said Lund, adding there is only a difference of about $150,000 between the interim budget and leaving the mill rate the same as last year.
The recreation manager position won’t be filled this year, and more efficiencies can be found, such as online training through a subscription the town has.
All the town staff can take all the training without additional costs after a one-time fee.
Any further funds freed up by other efficiencies found could potentially go into the operating contingency, to be used if and when they’re needed.
“We don’t know how long this is going to go … we’ve kind of being basing a lot of our own strategies and review on the date that municipal affairs has put in of Oct. 1.”
That is the date recreation could potentially start up again, she says, adding that salaries have only been adjusted for three or four months, not the rest of the year, for casual workers.
Mayor Bonnett asked if there was any potential for the town to tap into provincial or federal funding in order to employ students during the summer months.
Lund answered that municipalities are eligible for 75 per cent wage subsidy and the town has applied for funding for four or five students through the Canada Summer Jobs Grant, which is funding 100 per cent of the salaries this year.
Property Tax Relief Program
Council also approved a motion allowing local businesses and citizens who are struggling financially due to COVID-19 to apply to have their 2020 property tax payments deferred without penalty until Oct. 1.
“Business and residential property owners who are able to pay their property taxes before the normal July 31 deadline are still encouraged to do so. However, those facing serious financial difficulties during this COVID-19 outbreak will be invited to contact the Town Office and apply to have their property tax payment deferred until October,” said Flootman in the release.
Deferring property tax payments will give residents and businesses that are struggling an extra two months to pay their 2020 property taxes without penalty. Additional details about the Property Tax Relief Program will be provided in May when the final 2020 Town of Ponoka Budget is presented to council.
The town is also waiving late payment penalties on utility bills until the end of June for residents and businesses. Utility customers are encouraged to make full or partial payments as they are able to keep their accounts as current as possible. The waiving of late payment fees is being done to give citizens extra time to pay their utility bills if needed.
– With files from the Town of Ponoka