The City of White Rock is looking at a number of measures aimed at relieving the municipal tax burden on residents whose income has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)

White Rock studies tax relief measures

Provincial announcement affects steps already taken

City of White Rock staff are studying new provincial tax relief measures to assess how they will affect the picture for both businesses and residents hard hit by economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province announced Thursday morning it will be providing enhanced relief for businesses through steps aimed at reducing most commercial property tax bills by 25 per cent, as well as offering new measures to support local governments facing temporary revenue shortfalls.

The provincial moves come close on the heels of a council decision earlier in the week – at the suggestion of financial services director Colleen Ponzini – to give White Rock taxpayers an extra month to pay property and utility taxes before late-payment penalties would kick in.

“The city is reviewing the information to see how (the provincial announcement) will impact us here,” communications manager Donna Kell said.

“We know this affects a lot of people in the city and we have empathy for people who are waiting for answers.”

The new measures include a further lowering of the school tax rate for commercial properties designed to achieve an average 25 per cent reduction in property taxes for most businesses – on top of a 50 per cent reduction in the school tax rate previously announced as part of the provincial government’s COVID-19 action plan.

The province is also delaying the date when late payment penalties will apply – in a number of business classes – to Oct. 1.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: B.C. business, local governments get further tax relief

Also under study by city staff are provincial measures authorizing local governments to borrow, interest-free, from their existing capital reserves to help pay for operating expenses; the ability to delay provincial school tax remittances until the end of the year and offering local governments greater flexibility to carry debt for an additional year.

The provincial announcement supplies a major missing piece in assessing the city’s tax situation, noted at a special meeting of council on Tuesday (April 14).

Financial services director Colleen Ponzini had told council that, by Aug. 1, the city would have had to collect some $16.2 million in levies for other levels of government – including Metro Vancouver, provincial school taxes, the Fraser Valley Regional Library and TransLink – with more than $1 million further due by year’s end.

Chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill said it was likely that some $8 million of that would already be covered by those paying taxes in installments or through their mortgages.

Council unanimously endorsed Ponzini’s recommendation to push back the penalty schedule for property and utilities taxes by one month. The change was to be incorporated in the city’s bylaw, which must be in place by May 15.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: ICBC waives fees for cancelling insurance in pandemic

Under existing city practice, taxes were to have been due on the first business day of July. Anything paid after that would have been subject to a five per cent penalty, with a further five per cent charged for any balance still unpaid after mid-August.

Under the recommendation approved by council, that timetable was to shift back a month. The city has already extended its water utility bill payment deadlines from 30 days to 60 days.

Ponzini told council that the move would help the community in dealing with financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while balancing the city’s need to provide services and still meet provincial and regional district levies imposed each year.

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