BANFF – The Town of Banff is offering some financial relief to residents and businesses in the tourist town as the economy crumbles in the face of the global COVID-19 crisis.
The municipality is offering property owners who are on the monthly payment plan for property taxes the option to suspend their monthly contributions until the annual tax deadline on June 30.
Council also decided that people registered in the tax installment payment plan can also request a refund for the first three months of payments they made in January, February and March. Taxpayers not on the payment still have another three months before their tax bills are due.
“I think this is an excellent first step,” said Mayor Karen Sorensen at a council meeting Monday (March 23).
Councillor Corrie DiManno said she hopes homeowners will pass on some of the financial relief due to tax deferrals to tenants wherever possible.
“We know that the majority of our residents are renters and we’ve now put this in place as a relief option for those who have mortgages – and I think that is great and really helpful,” she said.
“What I want to do is encourage landlords to please check in with their tenants and ask about their financial situations, and if they are able to to please show some flexibility to their tenants.”
Coun. Grant Canning also encouraged condominium associations in Banff to consider options for condo fees.
“That is something my condo association has looked into and I think it might be prudent for other condo associations to do the same; whether it’s waiving fees or lowering fees in the short term,” he said.
“The possibility exists to address any shortfalls down the road, but right now I think a lot of our residents and our tenants are in trouble, so hopefully condo associations will consider this all well.”
The first quarter utility bills for sewer, water and solid waste are being mailed shortly, but the Town of Banff won’t charge any interest, calculated at 1.5 per cent per month, on those bills for the next three months, or shut off services, if people can’t pay them.
Mayor Sorensen supported the move.
“We’ll be happy if you are able to pay in a timely fashion if that’s still an option, but when your bill arrives, if you can’t and your payment is late, you will not be penalized,” she said.
Utility bills were budgeted to bring in about $2.4 million and the instalment tax payment plan about $3.6 million revenue over this time period prior to financial relief measures.
Town Manager Kelly Gibson said there is money in reserve accounts and some short-term investments have been cashed in to make sure the Town has the cash flow to cover these financial relief measures.
“Obviously cash flow, when we’re talking about measures like this, will always be a concern … but the is just deferred revenue, not lost revenue,” he said.
“This will greatly help those property owners and businesses that are struggling, put it back into their hands, rather than the municipality’s.”
Meanwhile, the provincial government is cancelling its 3.4 per cent population and inflation increase for education property taxes in the 2020 budget – and will now freeze them at last year’s levels.
Overall, the Alberta government estimates this will save households and businesses about $87 million in 2020-21, which means $55 million for households and $32 million for employers.
In addition, the government will defer education property tax for businesses for six months, effective immediately, which means $458 million in cash will remain with employers to help them pay employees and continue operations where possible.
The government expects municipalities to set education property tax rates as they normally would, but defer collection. The deferred taxes will be repaid in future tax years.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Banff had to collect $9.8 million in school taxes for 2020, which is $1.37 million more than the previous year. The municipality also had to collect another $125,000 in 2020 that was under levied in 2019.
The main reason for the big jump in the education tax requisition in Banff is because of the increase in Banff’s property assessments compared to the rest of the province.
Banff’s overall property assessments are up 4.75 per cent from $3.088 billion to $3.235 billion.
Gibson said the the Town of Banff doesn’t have many details on the provincial government’s education tax announcement announcement, or how it will roll through to the municipality.
“What this means in my mind is that they will not increase the overall education levy from last year; however, there will be an additional cost to the Town of Banff taxpayers still because of the change in assessments,” he said.
To arrange the suspension of the monthly tax payments, and the option of a temporary refund, email [email protected].