Sault Ste. Marie City Council voted unanimously tonight to suspend collection of the municipal sewer surcharge for the months of April and May 2020.
In an initiative spearheaded by Ward 4 Coun. RIck Niro to cushion the blow of the coronavirus pandemic on ratepayers, councillors also agreed that, should the province's emergency declaration continue beyond those months, consideration will be given to an even longer sewer surcharge freeze.
Making up 62 per cent of the water bill for residential customers and 82 per cent for non-residential entities, the sewer surcharge is collected by city-owned PUC Services Inc. through monthly PUC water bills.
"I really do believe that this council wants to do something to help and support those in need during this COVID-19 pandemic," Niro said.
"When we look at what we can do, we have to be mindful that we do it in a way that doesn't impact our budget for 2020. We have to keep in mind that although the federal and the provincial governments can run deficits, we can't. If we spend money that impacts our budget for this year, that we don't have this year, we just have to make it up next year."
"And the only way we can make it up next year is by increasing taxes, specifically for what we want to do this year."
"I believe the way we can help our community is by using our sewer surcharge accounts," Niro said.
By suspending collection of the surcharge for April and May, residents and businesses will save $2,091,000 to help them through the COVID emergency, he added.
Mayor Christian Provenzano said he worked with Niro and Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Shoemaker to prepare the sewer surcharge resolution.
"It's a worthwhile effort," the mayor said. "We have to be sensitive how long we're doing it because we need to have these resources to invest in our infrastructure. That's necessary and we've got some big expenditures coming up. But for the month of April and the month of May, when people are really going to be affected by this crisis, we can help immediately and put them in a position where they have to pay out a little less money,' the mayor said.
"As we are all aware, the PUC bills retroactively. So we passed this resolution tonight. Tomorrow, they'll make the change. When people get their April bills and their May bills, they won't have to pay this cost."
Other news from tonight's City Council meeting:
- tax ratios set by councillors tonight did not meet the commitment to residential ratepayers made in November 2016 because of a lack of assessment growth. Residential-class taxes will rise 3.6 per cent, 0.29 per cent higher than permitted by the city's long-term tax policy. Shelley Schell, the city's chief financial officer and treasurer, says 94.3 per cent of residential properties in the city will have increases less than $200, with an average hike of $84 for single-family dwellings. Taxes on a typical (median) apartment building in Sault Ste. Marie will rise $1,742, while a small office building's bill will decrease $40 and a standard industrial property will drop $455. The tax bill for a median small retail commercial property will rise $47. Click here for additional details
- interest and penalties on past-due property tax instalments will be waived until December
- the city's lease agreements with Icebreakers Restaurant, Sault Ste. Marie Gymnastics Club, the John Rhodes Pro Shop and Superior Sports Training Inc. will all be suspended effective March 16, when all city recreational facilities closed. The leases will be re-activated once the venues re-open
- Kresin Engineering Corp. won a consulting job to provide design and contract administration services for a $500,000 northern bus transfer station at Sault College
- Malcolm White, the city's chief administrative officer, said in a report to council that activities at local indoor and outdoor recreational and sport facilities will likely be the last to be reactivated when the current pandemic restrictions are lifted
- at the close of tonight's teleconferenced meeting, Mayor Provenzano expressed hope that council will soon be allowed to meet without the current physical-distancing restrictions. "We are very hopeful that come May, potentially late May, we will be able to be in the same place at the same time. And I can certainly tell you that I will look forward to that."