Archive

Orangeville Council approves new emergency relief measures for locals

April 3, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

Orangeville Council has moved to implement a collection of emergency relief initiatives to assist local residents and business owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Monday (March 23), Council agreed to waive all fees, penalties and interest related to late payment of property taxes for a three-month period, but stopped short of deferring taxes for this period completely. 

The next due date for residential, commercial and industrial property taxes is April 27, advised town treasurer Nandini Syed. At this time, the Town will be responsible for paying out tax funds it collects for the County of Dufferin and various school boards. As such, implementing an across-the-board deferral would be difficult without first seeking approval from those bodies. Ms. Syed hinted a full deferral could bring about significant cash flow problems for the municipality. 

“In terms of actual (dollar) implication, we’re looking at receiving a little over $15 million from (this tax term). Of that, 61 percent will be allocated to the Town, with 27 percent going to the County and the rest (12 percent) being the school board levy,” Ms. Syed said.

Council debated the issue for the better part of an hour. Most were sympathetic to the difficulties many taxpayers were facing in the wake of job losses and temporary layoffs, but had to accept the reality that going too far, and offering to waive taxes or indefinitely postpone taxes , could, essentially, bankrupt the Town.

Coun. Todd Taylor expressed his feeling that the current situation was worse than most people understood.

“What we’re potentially embarking upon is a cash flow crisis. The entire economy could easily shut down at this point. What we’re talking about here, I don’t think we should necessarily be looking at a town-wide tax deferral,” Coun. Taylor said. “We shouldn’t be doing this carte blanche. If we are to do something, it should be for people in need.”

He referenced a recent decision by the Town of Newmarket, which approved a tax deferral for residents who are experiencing financial hardship and are in desperate need.

“That’s what we need to do. The seriousness of this situation is big, however, not everyone will need to indulge upon (a tax deferral) at the beginning. Some will still be able to pay. As citizens who care about this town, we should pay if we can. However, If you can’t, you should be able to defer.”

Mayor Sandy Brown wondered if Council could bring about a motion that would allow staff to consider requests for tax deferrals from the public on a case-by-case basis, although it was suggested this would place too great a burden on administrative resources.

Coun. Joe Andrews asked the treasurer to provide clarity on the Town’s financial risk as the COVID-19 crisis continues to impact our community.

“At the end of the day, the financial risk will depend as the situation unfolds. For me to project what the overall financial implications could be without knowing what the future holds is difficult. If I had to answer, given that we (collect a tax) levy for two other bodies (County and school board), and if we have to continue paying their portion, then a tax deferral, either on a case-by-case basis, or a deferral across the board would be something Council really has to look into (before deciding).”

To help with any potential cash flow crisis, Council signed off on opening a new $10 million line of credit with TD Bank.

 It was also decided that staff would look back at all upcoming expenditures in 2020, find out where the money for those projects was coming from – whether municipally funded, or provincially/federally funded – and compile a priority list that Council can look over at its next meeting. 

Coun. Debbie Sherwood noted that many property owners have their tax bills built directly into their mortgages, which typically go out on pre-authorized payments on the first of every month. As such, on April 1, there may be some residents who default on their taxes. Council included in their motion, made by Coun. Sherwood to waive all fees and penalties related to non-payment, that anyone with taxes going out on April 1 could reach out to Town staff to request a reimbursement for this tax period, and that anyone who would typically incur an NSF fee for non-payment should a direct debit be unsuccessful would not be charged. 

Mayor Brown was keen to reiterate the point that this was a temporary respite for ratepayers and that, should they choose to push off paying their taxes now, they will still be due at a later date.

“This does not mean we are waiving taxes, this is money we will have to collect at some point. As far as we’re concerned this is a delay (to help) many people in town effected by this crisis,” Mayor Brown said. 

Transit maintained

Council will continue to operate its municipal transit system, and will do so for no cost to riders for the next 90 days. 

“I think transit right now is definitely an essential service. People who use it are taking it to go to work and man our grocery stores, and make sure residents are taken care of. Some of the most vulnerable people in our community are using our buses,” Coun. Post said.

Doug Jones, the Town’s Generam Manager of Infrastructure Services, informed Council that, over March Break, the bus system saw approximately 150 riders per day. The transit system, Mr. Jones says, continues to be a consistency source of travel for seniors and youth in Orangeville. The one concern he had was how individuals would go about purchasing transit passes with all municipal facilities closed to the public. That concern served as the inspiration for the waiving of all bus fees for the next three months. 

“As an aside, we do have increased cleaning protocols on our buses. Drivers are wiping down buses regularly during their shift. Like any facility or place being accessed by the public, people have to be cautious on their own and make sure they’re taking measures they need to keep themselves safe,” Mr. Jones said.

Council also voted to lift its winter parking restrictions, allowing vehicles to park overnight on municipal roads effective immediately. 

Hydro rate relief sought

Mayor Sandy Brown informed Council he had held discussions with Orangeville Hydro chief Rob Koekkoek about potentially implementing off-peak hydro rates full-time while people self-isolate in their homes in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

“Orangeville Hydro is billed energy costs by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) – they control the cost of hydro, set the rates and decide when to go to off-peak hours,” Mayor Brown said. “The energy being used today will not be billed until April. If the decision comes down from the province, it will be very simple for (Orangeville Hydro) staff to change the billing rate for the April bills.”

Council directed staff to draft a letter to be sent to the OEB formally requesting hydro rates be shifted to off-peak rates for the foreseeable future. On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford announced the province would be eliminating mid-peak and on-peak rates for 45 days to provide relief for individuals staying home during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Community Grants

Council has decided to invest an additional $100,000 into its Community Grant Fund. The money will come from municipal reserves and will help organizations such as the Orangeville Food Bank and Theatre Orangeville overcome issues related to COVID-19.

The Food Bank in particular is in desperate need of support. With hundreds, if not thousands of local residents laid off in recent weeks, visits to the local food depository have increased tenfold. As such, the Town has donated $10,000 to the organization, with the promise that more will be available should it be required.

Other organizations, such as Theatre Orangeville, who have been forced to shut down and cancel events and programs are being asked to submit requests for funding to Council. 

Dog Park closed

The local dog park, located on Hansen Boulevard, has been officially closed. 

CAO Ed Brennan told Council it may be “cautiously correct” to close the facility after he saw reports over the weekend that COVID-19 may be transmitted through dogs. 

“Once people get in there, it’s hard to control. How can we stop a dog approaching another dog, or a human?” Mr. Brennan asked. 

Ray Osmond, the Town’s General Manager of Community Services, noted several other municipalities had been proactive in closing their dog parks and that, with things the way they are right now, it might be prudent to encourage residents to walk their dogs on a leash on the many trails and walkways in Orangeville. 

Garbage

Orangeville is lobbying Dufferin County to increase the garbage bag limit for local residents who are staying home due to COVID-19. 

A motion formally requesting the County’s weekly garbage bag limit be increased from one bag to two bags for 90 days was approved unanimously by Council. 

“It seems that now we are all in our homes, the garbage collection is going to go up. Hopefully the recycling does too. It has got to be looked at,” said Coun. Todd Taylor. 

Deputy Mayor Andy Macintosh said Dufferin County council would likely convene next week, at which point he would bring up the issue for discussion. 

Mayor’s Statement

In closing Monday’s meeting, Mayor Brown sought to provide clarity and comfort to local residents during this distressing time.

“Today, Orangeville Council passed measures to help alleviate some of the immediate financial pressures that Orangeville residents are experiencing in light of the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “What the Province has been doing, and what we have done today is ensure people are safe in where they are. The Province has decreed there will be no evictions. People are safe in their home for the time being. We are helping people with their taxes.”

He added, “Nobody is going to throw you out of your house. Nobody us going to be turning off your power, or your water. The Town of Orangeville and provincial government is mobilizing to make sure there is food available for people in the event this crisis gets more severe. Let’s envision positively what’s going to happen over the next three or four months. Our community is going to be resilient, and we will celebrate winning this war that is running rampant throughout the world right now.”



         

Share Button


Readers Comments (0)


You must be logged in to post a comment.