No blanket deferrals: Humboldt to allow alternate payment plans for taxes, bills

HUMBOLDT — There will be no blanket deferral of tax and utility bills in Humboldt, but the city will set up an alternate payment plan for those facing financial hardship due to the pandemic.

Those facing financial hardship – whether they are a home or business owner – must contact the city. The city will then set up an individualized plan where a minimum payment must be made each month. As long as the payments are made, the rest of what’s owed will be deferred without penalty.

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“The general concept is we'd like to see people continue to make at least 50 per cent of their billing and it also would be a way to keep them from getting too far behind,” said Joe Day, Humboldt’s administrator, to council at their April 27 meeting. “And I'll be quite honest: to ensure that the city doesn't get too far behind in its revenues either.”

While there are many different relief programs out there, city staff said in a memo provided to council a common approach is to waive all penalties for late payments on tax and utility bills through to Sept. 30.

“As you may be aware, some of the other cities in Saskatchewan are very concerned about some of the cash flow considerations on their deferral programs,” Day said.

Council voted in favour of the program.

Rob Muench, Humboldt’s mayor, said council talked to city staff about its capacity to administer an individualized program.

“Staff feels that we’re a small enough center that we can deal individually with people as opposed to doing a blanket approach to it,” he said. “I think that's the fair way to do it, so the people that are having issues are the ones that we're putting our resources towards.”

Councillor Sandy Weyland suggested the city contact those that are having difficulty before giving them a notice to let them know that alternate arrangements can be made, to cover those that don’t get the news from the newspaper, radio or social media. Muench suggested the city put the fact that alternate arrangements can be made right on the notice.

“We are going to try everything we can to make sure the public is aware that we've got a program in place and to call City Hall, call our admin staff, if they're having any concerns with their bills,” Day said.

Councillor Michael Behiel, who works as an accountant, said he wholeheartedly supports having minimum payments so that what’s owed doesn’t pile up, while Councillor Roger Nordick said the programs provide city staff with enough flexibility to resolve any of the issues with compassion and due consideration.

In the memo to council, city staff said if the program reduces regularly calculated utility bill penalties by around 20 per cent, it will result in a loss of $400 in interest revenue a month for the city. If the program also results in a 20 per cent reduction in penalties following the July 31 tax due date until the end of 2020 for property taxes, the lost interest would be around $5,000.

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