City outlines $1.15 million pandemic relief plan

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman says she will be recommending council approve a $1.15 million relief plan for residents and businesses next week.

Among the measures being proposed are to eliminate the proposed 1.25% tax rate increase, move the late penalty date for property taxes to October 1, and to create a new standing committee for economy recovery.

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“I believe we can provide relief now and focus on recovery for our tomorrow,” Ackerman said Wednesday. 

Council meets next on April 27, and has already approved cuts to water rates and waived late payment penalties on utility bills. The city will also be waiving lease payments for vendors who operate in city facilities.

Ackerman says the measures amount to an approximate tax rate decrease of 4%. The tax deadline will still be July 2, but late penalty charges will not apply until Oct. 1.

"These measures will allow the City of Fort St. John to moderate the financial impacts during these times in a prudent manner," Ackerman said. "No one has a crystal ball on this pandemic. We don't know what a new normal will look like and we don't know when that new normal will be here. We don't know what recovery will look like, and we have a community that expects services across a variety of departments, so we will need to get back to normal with you."

The city will also be moving ahead with its $68.4 million capital budget this year as planned, Ackerman said.

The plan is funded primarily through Peace River Agreement grant money from the province, as well as grants, development charges, reserves, federal gas tax funds, and borrowing for local area service projects, which is recouped through property taxes.

Ackerman said the capital budget will be important for stimulating job creation. Major projects this year including the construction of a new RCMP detachment, continued Centennial Park upgrades and festival plaza, and the rebuild of 100 Street.

“They’ll create an estimated 516 jobs and inject about $33.5 million of labour income into our communities,” Ackerman said.

The pandemic is forecast to drop city revenues and expenses by $2 million in the next three months, and up to $6.5 million if it persists until the end of the year. Those forecasts are still being fine-tuned and will be presented to council next week.

The city says it will borrow against its capital reserves, at zero percent interest, to provide temporary relief.

Revenue from business licences, approximately $240,000, will fund the economy recovery committee.

The city says the committee will work to find "innovative solutions to get all of our sectors back on their feet, including for-profit and not-for-profit organizations." 

This is a developing story.

Watch the full announcement:

Full release follows:

The City of Fort St. John, as with all municipalities across Canada, is facing uncertainty about the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been actively modelling, preparing, adjusting and identifying opportunities to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the City of Fort St. John to moderate the financial impacts during these times. We also know our residents and businesses need our support, in addition to the various provincial and federal programs in place.

 “Due to the commitment of Council and City staff to ensuring our financial sustainability over the past several years, we can appropriately respond and support our residents and businesses. Today, thanks to our Financial Policy Framework, which guides the financial decision-making process, improved budgeting process and solid financial situation, along with the recently announced provincial tools, I am recommending to Council additional measures to our relief, recovery and resiliency plan,” said Mayor Lori Ackerman.

1. Cancellation of the proposed 1.25% tax rate increase for 2020

We will borrow against our capital reserves, at zero percent interest, to provide temporary relief following the recent announcement from the Provincial Government.

2. Moving the late penalty date for all property taxes to October 1, 2020

In line with the Provincial Government, we will be moving the late payment date. While the tax deadline will remain as July 2, late penalty charges will not apply until October 1.

3. Creation of a Mayor’s Standing Committee on Economic Recovery and Resiliency

This committee will work on using innovative solutions to get all of our sectors back on their feet, including for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, using the revenue from Business Licenses.

Additionally, to further support our business, the City will waive lease payments from vendors that operate in our recreational facilities, while those facilities are temporarily closed. These measures, along with the reduction of the water rate increase, utilities billing late fee suspension, and increased garbage collection previously announced, combine for a total relief of $1.15 million or an approximate tax rate decrease of 4%.

In addition to these relief measures, it is important to prepare for the economic recovery. To that, Council is committed to continuing with our $68.4 million Capital Plan, which will provide significant funding into our community while improving the services our residents rely on. Capital projects are funded through the Peace River Agreement, user fees, and other grants, all of which are separate from property taxes. These projects will create an estimated 516 jobs, and pour $33.5 million of labour income into our community.

“Moving forward, as always, we will continue to provide our input to all levels government and to work with our colleagues and neighbours to share information and ensure our community, our province, our nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic,” continued Mayor Lori Ackerman. 

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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[Note to readers: The relief plan totals $1.15 million, not $1.5 million as initially stated.]

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