Island municipalities evaluate, implement tax relief measures

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MANITOULIN – In response to the financial strains imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, cities and municipalities across Canada have been requesting federal and provincial aid and trying to find ways to temporarily shelter their residents from some of their municipal financial responsibilities, including on Manitoulin Island.

The Expositor contacted all of the incorporated townships on Manitoulin to compile a snapshot of their relief measures at the current time.

Assiginack

Ratepayers in the Township of Assiginack will face no penalties or interest fees on their current tax balance or any municipal utility bills. This measure was implemented by council near the start of the shut-downs.

“We’re waiting to see what the province does when they ease us out of it. We’ll be waiting to see and follow those best practices,” said CAO Alton Hobbs.

Billings

Council in the Township of Billings has not passed any municipal bill relief measures at this time. Its payment schedule is semi-annual, with those dates falling at the end March and at the end of August.

Because of the long time horizon before the next billing cycle, township CAO Kathy McDonald said she has begun considering the merits of various relief options and will be able to provide her recommendations on the subject to council at a later date, before the next round of bills are issued.

Burpee and Mills

Similar to Billings, no measures have been implemented yet. The township’s tax bills come out in August, leaving more time to see how the world changes before that date.

Central Manitoulin

At its April 23 meeting, Central Manitoulin council extended its deadline for taxes, water and sewer and registration until June 30. The measures enacted will be reconsidered at some point in June, said CAO Ruth Frawley.

Gordon/Barrie Island

The Township of Gordon/Barrie Island has yet to finalize its 2020 budget and tax rates. It, too, operates on a once-annual billing cycle that does not come due until the fall, so no tax relief measures have been implemented at this early time.

Gore Bay

The Town of Gore Bay has not implemented any universal deferrals for payments, although these were considered. Instead, the town is preparing to work with individual ratepayers who request assistance with their payments on a case-by-case basis.

“So far, we have had a few requests for deferring lease payments which have been granted,” stated Clerk Stasia Carr in an email to The Expositor. “It is a difficult time for many. Gore Bay historically has tried to work with its ratepayers to work out a resolution that is acceptable to all parties considering taxation. This will not change.”

Northeast Town

Council in the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands has voted to extend the payment deadlines on its interim tax bill’s second installment and on its water and sewer bills. The extension runs for 90 days and no interest will accumulate during that time and the estimated cost will be $80,000.

“It will afford (ratepayers) the opportunity to pay those when they can and take some of the financial stress off of them, especially in the immediate term when we’re all dealing with this transition,” said Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson.

“It does offer very practical relief. The other thing it does is that by having no interest accumulating, it will save people money because some good folks are compelled to pay these bills over months,” he added.

Tehkummah

The Township of Tehkummah has not implemented any municipal payment relief measures at this time. Its spring billing cycle came due last week and the next one will occur in the fall, similar to several other Island municipalities. 

Clerk-administrator Silvio Berti said the township’s own bills have not changed, such as for paramedic services, so the township is still required to cover those costs. He added that Tehkummah would be watching for directives from higher levels of government and acting on those recommendations.

Premier agrees in principle 

with seasonal resident tax breaks

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been having discussions with mayors from the main ‘cottage country’ areas of the Toronto population, such as Muskoka, about whether or not seasonal residents should have to pay their full tax amount if they are not using their properties.

At his May 4 press conference, Premier Ford responded “I agree with you” to a CHCH reporter’s question about whether cottagers unable to access properties should get some of their taxes back.

Seasonal resident property access has been strongly discouraged at this point, rather than being banned outright.

However, the premier indicated those restrictions may not be in place long-term, should numbers continue trending downward.

“By May the 24th, hopefully the numbers are going to continue coming down. We’re going to have a heart-to-heart conversation this week with the mayors (of ‘cottage country’). There’s only so long you can hold back taxpayers from going to their cottages,” said Premier Ford.