The Town of Bashaw granted the request of a local resident who is apparently having trouble paying his or her tax and utility bills.
The decision was made at the Dec. 10 regular meeting of council.
Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Theresa Fuller read an email from a local, unnamed resident, stating he or she was having trouble paying both their property tax bill along with their utility bill as he or she had lost some income from what appeared to be a home-based business.
This resident stated they were still trying to pay off their tax and utility bills, but asked if the council would be willing to waive the penalty fees associated with paying late.
The resident stated the help would be appreciated, but if no help could be offered, they understood.
Councillors discussed how much money in penalties the resident in question owed, and Fuller stated $388.45 in property tax penalties and $210.83 in utility bill penalties, for a total of $599.28.
Fuller stated the resident in question was fairly up-to-date on paying their bills to the town and didn’t appear to be someone the town has payment problems with.
Fuller also predicted that, with COVD-19 difficulties, councillors were probably going to get more of these requests.
Coun. Lynn Schultz stated it’s difficult to say no to someone in trouble but if the town helps them out council will get flooded with these requests.
Fuller noted certain accommodations council made earlier this year to help people in financial difficulties because of the pandemic, such as waiving penalties and extending payment deadlines, didn’t have a huge impact on the town budget.
Schultz asked if the town had been ordered to take those measures, to which Fuller responded, no, the province didn’t order those measures, but encouraged municipalities to offer them.
Coun. Rosella Peterman suggested an application system where the town could offer some relief to those who were truly in a tight financial spot.
Fuller noted there are Bashaw residents who have good payment histories with the town who are also having financial difficulty right now.
Schultz stated he didn’t think it was fair to place that decision-making burden on the CAO’s shoulders.
Coun. Rob McDonald stated he felt that someone who’s making a good effort to pay their tax and utility bills but is still having trouble is more deserving of help than someone who isn’t making any effort to pay the bills.
Both Mayor Penny Shantz and Coun. Darren Pearson agreed with McDonald.
Coun. Peterman also agreed, stating at least if someone is in a tight spot they take responsibility by contacting the town. Peterman stated such decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.
Schultz stuck to his guns. “I disagree,” said Coun. Schultz. “I just think we’re opening up a can of worms.”
Schultz noted the town didn’t cause the pandemic, there are government relief programs available for people suffering financially because of the pandemic and the town shouldn’t be playing favourites.
Coun. McDonald asked if there was any other way the town could help residents. Fuller stated payment plans are an option but those plans also include late payment penalties.
Councillors eventually voted 4 to 1, Schultz opposed, to waive the utility penalties plus a $40 fee associated with the property tax penalties.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter