Parking revenues in White Rock pay for waterfront amenities, such as maintenance of washrooms and garbage collection, however council was told Monday that the reduction in the number of people using the facilities might mitigate some of the shortfall caused by the lots’ closure. (File photo)

White Rock council mulls financial impacts of pandemic

City is working with other municipalities to develop aligned strategies

The City of White Rock is waiting on senior levels of government for more guidance on what relief can be provided to city taxpayers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report received by council Monday night, new city financial services director Colleen Ponzini said the city was working with other municipalities to develop aligned strategies to help residents during the crisis.

These could include a provincial property tax deferment program and the possible extension of “deadlines, penalty dates and/or penalty rates,” she said.

At the meeting, Ponzini also recommended first, second, third and final readings for an amendment to the city’s water services bylaw which would give residents more time to pay their water bill – 60 days from the date of issue, rather than the current 30.

“That’s a positive step for the city,” she said.

The amendment, including final adoption, were subsequently passed by council.

Ponzini’s full report on financial impacts outlined “areas in which we can expect to experience loss of revenues and increased expenses due to this crisis,” and ways of offsetting impact on “the community and the economy.”

One of the major impacts to the city will be loss of revenue from waterfront parking, which was closed as a response to the pandemic, she said.

According to the report, projected parking revenues will drop by $900,000 as a result of closure of the waterfront parking lots and reduced parking enforcement – some 30 per cent of the 2020 budget for this item.

Also hit will be Recreation and Culture programs and facilities rentals (down an estimated $500,000); while there will be a projected $300,000 reduction in investment income, due to decreasing interest rates and a decline in sidewalk permits of $40,000 due to enforcement of health regulations.

“These numbers are pretty significant for the city,” she said. “That type of revenue loss is definitely something we all need to be aware of, because we are going to have to change what we do, and/or change some things in order to address these losses.”

She said staff is preparing an amendment to the current financial plan for the end of this month which will include pre-pandemic objectives already vetted by council, since the Community Charter requires approval of a 2020-24 financial plan before the property tax bylaw is adopted – which must be done by May 15.

“We want to make sure the financial plan is set up and ready to go so that we can deal with the taxes,” she said. “It doesn’t negate the ability to further amend the financial plan for other realities we’re going to experience from this crisis.”

“We are allowed to do that after the fact; we’re actually allowed to amend the financial plan when needed in order to make sure we have the proper authority in place for expenses and our revenues.

“You’ll probably see one, if not two, other amendments this year.”

When Coun. Scott Kristjanson noted the shortfall in projected waterfront parking revenues, Ponzini added that current projections on revenue loss had only been done to the end of May; other projections are being prepared by staff.

“Those numbers are likely to increase,” Ponzini said.

She said that the city was also likely to see some savings as a result of closure of the lots, however but staff will have to continue to compile details for future assessment by council.

In answer to further questions from Kristjanson, CAO Dan Bottrill, said TransLink fees from parking, estimated as percentage of revenues, would actually go down with the closure of the lots but the annual lease for the lots from BNSF is a fixed expense.

“It’s an annual contract that doesn’t quite have a clause that says if there’s a pandemic there’s a ‘get out of jail free’ card.” he said.

Parking revenues also pay for waterfront amenities, such as maintenance of washrooms and garbage collection, Bottrill added, while noting that reduced usage might mitigate some of the shortfall.

In Surrey, meanwhile, a request by Coun. Linda Annis that the city’s property and business taxes to be deferred – interest-free until Dec. 2 – was ruled out of order by Mayor Doug McCallum.

Annis presented her notice of motion in response to the economic fallout from the pandemic during Monday night’s “virtual” council meeting.

“(McCallum) said he was working with the province on a similar initiative and that the province had to deal with it, but in actual fact the city can extend the deadline of property and business taxes in terms of when the payment is due by a simple bylaw,” Annis said. “I’m just going to continue to advocate for it and try to make sure that we are heard loud and clear,” she said.

Annis said it’s important that Surrey finds practical ways to help families and businesses in these tough times.

“Losing your job because of COVID-19’s impact on our local and provincial economy is bad enough, we shouldn’t be adding more stress for families and businesses when it comes to paying property taxes.”

Property taxes are currently due on July 2, with notices going out at the end of May.

“Deferring property taxes until December is the least we can do under the circumstances,” Annis said.

“It might mean we’ll have to tighten our belt at city hall for a few months, but I think Surrey’s families and businesses are worth it.”

– files by Tom Zytaruk, Black Press Media

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