To extend interest relief on taxes or not, that was the question Tiny Township councillors grappled with a recent committee of the whole meeting.
The crux of the matter was questioning whether to continue providing interest relief to Tiny residents until the Sept. 21 due date, or to discontinue the grace period.
The township's director of finance, Haley Leblond, stated that a canvas of local municipalities allowed staff to see what other communities were doing in their efforts.
“The majority of municipalities have not provided any interest relief in 2021, but there were a few,” said Leblond, “most of which will be expiring already or by the end of the year. As of this past tax due date, our actual tax receivables are more in line with pre-pandemic receivables, so it’s pretty consistent with past years.
“The revenue that we’ve lost to date from this interest relief program is at about $60,000 which is about 20% of our budget on interests and penalty revenue that we do budget in treasury.”
Deputy mayor Steffan Walma asked Leblond if there was a mechanism in the system allowing staff to discern whether a constituent was unable to pay due to specific hardships, or if they simply chose not to pay.
Leblond said no such distinction was made with all residents being treated equally across the board. Coun. Tony Mintoff later suggested such a mechanism would be a logistical administrative nightmare for staff to implement.
“For council’s benefit,” Walma explained, “at our last county council meeting we had deliberations on budget assumptions. Council agreed to a 2% budget assumption, not a 2% tax rate; that’s what staff will bring forward to county council. But there was also a lot of discussion about doing a zero percent and citing COVID as the reasons why.
“We also had discussions about a tax deferral program at the county, and the county has agreed to match whatever the lower-tier municipality does as far as tax relief or tax deferrals, whatever the case may be. That’s just one piece. If we do it here, the county will do the same thing," he said.
Coun. Gibb Wishart said he was concerned about the complacency of those who would take advantage of leniency.
“I’m the hard nut in the crowd,” Wishart asserted. “I’m sorry, if you leave people to the last quarter, you’ll make it even more difficult for them. I know a bank wouldn’t do that because they realize that you’re really not doing them a favour. Even if they have to borrow a small amount to pay their taxes, I think they would be wise to do that because interest rates are so low.
Being compared to a bank put Mintoff on the defence.
“I can’t let that one go; I never want to be compared to a bank,” said Mintoff. “Quite frankly, banks in my opinion are rather heartless, they make their decisions based on the profit margins that they choose to operate on, and we want to be known as a municipality that has a heart.”
Mintoff asked if lost revenue would be covered under the COVID relief fund, which Leblond stated it would.
“So it doesn’t cost us anything to be nice,” said Coun. Cindy Hastings. “That’s awesome.”
Wishart fired back, asking, “Where do you think the province gets the money from to give us interest relief?”
The question prompted humorous replies from Walma who offered that money is printed from trees, and Hastings who suggested it came from space.
Council carried a motion to extend the COVID-relief grace period of tax penalties and charges related to the current tax year until Sept. 21, at a vote of 3-1 with Wishart being the sole nay.
Information for the COVID-relief grace period is available on the township of Tiny website. Meetings are streamed live and archived on the township of Tiny YouTube channel.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca