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Bighorn waives late fees during COVID-19 pandemic

"Council and administration recognized that the pandemic is an unprecedented event, which is impacting residents and businesses throughout the MD. The resulting job losses and financial stress may affect upcoming utility payments."
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BIGHORN – In an effort to help municipal district residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bighorn council is waiving late payment penalties.

At a special meeting called earlier this week, Reeve Dene Cooper and council unanimously approved waiving the late utility bill penalties until June 1, which typically carries a cost of six per cent.

“Everything helps a little bit and this is a little bit – I’m hoping with the things inside my control and other things in other people's control, it can add up to be sufficient and meaningful,” Cooper said in a phone interview.

Starting on March 31, residents and businesses in Exshaw, Dead Man’s Flats and Harvie Heights will no longer have to pay the six per cent late fee if they cannot afford their utility bills until June 1, but the MD did encourage those who have the ability to pay their utility bills to do so. 

“Council and administration recognized that the pandemic is an unprecedented event, which is impacting residents and businesses throughout the MD. The resulting job losses and financial stress may affect upcoming utility payments,” Shaina Tutt, MD director of finance said in a phone interview.

“Waving penalties on unpaid accounts for water and wastewater services provides the residents and businesses with Exshaw, Harvie Heights, and Dead Man’s Flats an opportunity to defer their utility payments, for the short term, without worry about an additional charge.”

The announcement to waive late penalties comes after council also made the decision to suspend official public meetings for 30 days starting March 17, meaning all council, committee, boards and commission meetings were suspended for April. 

At the time, the Reeve said the MD was being pro-active rather than reactive and commended administration for being organized during these unprecedented times.  

“We have to be careful we are managing social distancing to impede containment should it occur … we are now structured so we should be able to manage,” Cooper said.

The COVID-19 pandemic first hit the province nearly a month ago on March 5 with the number of positive cases jumping to 1,075 and 18 deaths recorded as of Friday (April 3). 

The Canmore region, which includes some of the MD hamlets, had 11 positive cases recorded as of Friday afternoon, while the Banff region had one positive case.

Under a public health emergency, the province has also placed severe restrictions on businesses and residents, including limiting public gathering to a maximum of 15.

“The measures we have in place are to protect all of us,” Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during the April 3 press conference.

“Until we have more information about who may be at greatest risk, and more evidence about treatments, the best way to prevent severe illness is for all of us to perform physical distancing.”

In other efforts to provide relief during the pandemic, the MD is also allowing residents and businesses in Exshaw, Dead Man’s Flat and Harvie Heights who are currently registered for the Pre-Authorized Utility Payment Plan (PUPP) to opt-out of the program without any penalty. 

The Reeve said council and administration are still exploring other ideas to help residents.

“In concept, there are other ideas,” Cooper said.

“In actual staff reports and presentations, we are just approaching some of those concepts.” 

 

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