At the final committee of the whole meeting for this council on Oct. 12, members discussed using the COVID Relief Reserve for utility rebates.
The municipality operates water, wastewater, solid waste and recycling utilities in the municipality.
Each utility is largely funded through user fees but not exclusively.
These fees are intended to reflect the customer’s consumption of that service.
The municipality has just under 1,300 total accounts with approximately 90 being commercial accounts.
The numbers can fluctuate due to closures of accounts, seasonal closures and new businesses opening up.
Throughout the pandemic, the Government of Alberta has established a number of public health orders that have had some effect on the ability of businesses to operate.
In some cases, it did require some businesses to fully close, and others had limitations that they must follow.
At the lower government level, many municipalities including Jasper have provided some relief using the property tax system.
Other municipalities have decided to offer more direct financial resources through some type of targeted support.
Jasper’s municipality has chosen to discuss this in the form of utility rebates.
In Jasper, the water and wastewater rates are directly tied to a user’s actual consumption.
Essentially, this means that if there is no consumption then the rates go down to zero.
The same is not true for garbage and recycling that have fees attached to them whether or not the business is actually using the service within a given month.
In the case of solid waste, each commercial account pays a minimum of $288.37 by monthly billing.
In the case of recycling, they pay a flat charge of $31.12.
Because these minimums are not tied to user consumption, even if the business was fully closed for a month or more, these charges would not be avoided.
Administration said an appropriate approach for council to consider would be to rebate fees associated with solid waste (garbage) and recycling for businesses that were impacted by the closures due to COVID and health restrictions.
Administration suggested that the best approach that would provide the most privacy for business owners while also being reflective of the impact of public health restrictions would be to base rebates or the number of dates that a business was fully closed or partially closed due to public health orders.
The first public health order that started closures was March 2020.
Administration stated that whatever program is set in place should begin in March 2020 and continue through till Oct. 31 due to the number of in and off closures throughout the year.
Administration further proposed that the program should be open for applications beginning no later than Dec. 1 and should remain open until March 31, 2022 or until all program funds have been allocated whatever comes first.
Each business faces a combined monthly garbage/recycling minimum charge of $159.75 and they have 19 months since March 2020.
For all 90 commercial businesses for the entire period the maximum financial potential exposure for the municipality would be just over $273,000.
A more likely amount that the program would need would be $90,000 due to that some businesses were never closed and some for only periods of time throughout those 19 months.
The program should be a first-come, first-serve basis and that any money not used after March 31 of 2922 would go back into the COVID Relief Reserve.
Administration proposed that this program be funded by the COVID Relief Reserve.
Administration said it attempted to find a way that would reflect the impact of closure on business and its result in reduction in demand of municipal utility services.
Administration suggested that each month a business was fully closed for over 50 per cent of the month a full rebate of $159.75, and each day a business was fully closed for less than 50 per cent of the month a partial rebate of $79.87 be provided.
For each day a business was partially closed for an entire month, the rebate would be $79.87, and if it was under 50 per cent of the month, it would be $39.94 that would be provided.
Coun. Helen Kelleher-Empey made a motion that committee recommend council approve the establishment of a utility rate rebate program reflective of the following:
Coun. Paul Butler proposed that they strike the first come, first serve basis wording from the motion.
The overall decision was to leave the wording.
Mayor Richard Ireland then also proposed a friendly amendment for the second point adding on “closed due to public health restrictions and unable to return open due to COVID-related issues.”
Kelleher-Empey accepted Mayor Ireland’s friendly amendment.
All were in favour, and the motion was carried.
Ali Howat, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh