City council discussed possible measures around tax and rent relief if the COVID-19 pandemic continues for any great length of time. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

COVID-19: Williams Lake eyes possible relief measures for businesses

Staff will draft a bylaw and write a letter to the provincial government about tax relief

Requests have come into the City of Williams Lake for rent or bill payment relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting the need to possibly amend an existing bylaw.

Mayor Walt Cobb told council during its regular meeting, held by Zoom Tuesday, April 7, that one of the airlines servicing the region has asked for two months rent relief at the Williams Lake Regional Airport.

In response to such requests, the City is looking at preparing a necessary bylaw amendment and writing a letter to the provincial government asking that a program be implemented provincially to develop tax relief measures.

The measures proposed would preserve the revenue stream, potentially just delay the receipt of funds, while also relieving the burden of potential late payment fees for residents who may not be able to meet the current payment deadlines, said chief financial officer Vitali Kozubenko.

Coun. Scott Nelson said the City is trying to work with the Union of B.C. Municipalities to ask the Provincial Government to implement a program for the entire province.

Read more: Normal life won’t fully return until COVID-19 vaccine developed, Trudeau says

“We are starting to hear from a number of municipalities about the specific impacts the pandemic is having on residents and businesses. We’ve already started to look down the road at the financial impacts this is going to have on our community and how it will correspond in the short term and in the long term over the next several years.”

Being prepared will also mean the City is ready to respond if federal or provincial programs are announced, he added.

Kozubenko said so far he has not heard of anything being proposed, except for reducing the school taxes by half for industry and businesses.

“But they are not proposing to delay any taxation so probably it will go ahead for legislation,” he added. “If penalities are deferred that will be provincial because it’s a legislative penalty.”

The City cannot do much for tax relief on its own, but for the collection of utilities and rent, council can probably pass bylaw amendment resolutions to defer rent for City facilities or water and sewer payments.

“We’ve had only one request so far for rent forgiveness,” he added.

Cobb said there is misconception out there about rent deferrals.

“Unfortunately, if you haven’t made an agreement with your landlord, it’s only a deferral and at the end of the day, if you own three months rent, you are going to owe three months rent. We need to be clear whether we are talking about deferral or about forgiving. That’s the issue and the bylaw would have to state that.”

Read more: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, fear it’s a mistake

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