Big Valley village council decided a local church will have to start paying municipal utility bills. The decision was made at the Jan. 12 regular meeting.
Village Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Elaine Macdonald presented councillors with a report about the Evangelical Free Church and an existing village policy that waived utility billing for the organization.
It was discussed at a previous meeting and tabled as council asked Macdonald to do some investigation to discover how many other municipalities waive utility bills for churches.
“Information was received from 10 municipalities and of those eight bill the churches for the utilities at the regular rates and the other two only bill a garbage collection rate,” stated Macdonald’s report to council.
She noted the garbage was likely charged because it was part of a contract and couldn’t be waived. The CAO stated she looked at policies from Alix, County of Stettler, Red Deer, Drumheller, Donalda, Elnora, Linden, Delburne, Trochu and Morrin.
“The village is currently paying the costs associated with providing water service to the E-Free Church and if they are sent monthly bills, those costs would be recouped,” added the report.
Coun. Clark German noted it looked like the church’s annual utility fees are about $640 plus consumption.
Macdonald noted there is a water meter already installed on the church.
German stated that if the village continues to waive utility billing it should be considered a donation to the church. However, he mused that he didn’t understand why utilities would be waived for a church.
Mayor Dan Houle, noting that churches are exempt from paying property taxes, suggested charging the church for its utility usage while waiving fees.
Coun. German pondered if one group benefits from its utilities being waived, will other groups come forward and ask for the same treatment?
German pointed out the village had to pay for the meter that was installed at the church. He added that he felt the church should pay a utility bill like everyone else in the village.
Coun. Amber Hoogenberg agreed, but asked how the church would be notified if councillors decided to charge them a utility bill.
Macdonald answered she would notify the church by letter and also pointed out the utilities would only be charged from the date councillors made their decision with no retroactive billing.
Councillors unanimously passed a resolution that the Village of Big Valley would begin charging the Evangelical Free Church a utility bill, including fees, water access and usage.
Macdonald asked councillors to reverse a billing error that occurred on a tax roll.
“The account holder made a partial payment on the 2022 tax levy on July 8 with a cheque postdated,” stated Macdonald’s report to council. “Administration entered the payment on Aug. 2 as the office was closed from July 30 until Aug. 2 as Aug. 1 was a civic holiday.
“Administration entered the tax payment in the correct batch dated in July. Our software did not recognize the payment made in July and calculated the penalty on the total amount due.”
The agenda memo noted the erroneous amount of $136 in penalties were added to the tax roll; instead, there was only $205.96 remaining on the property tax bill so the late penalty should have only been $16.48.
The CAO, who provided all of the receipts illustrating how most of the taxes had been paid before the deadline, noted only village council has the authority to reverse property tax penalties once the bills have been sent out.
Councillors unanimously agreed to reverse the $136 penalty.
Local Journalism Initiative reporter