Council considers waiving late fees for all tax classes

An initial idea to provide some relief to small businesses in Chatham-Kent might soon be available to all taxpayers.

During Monday night’s meeting, council received a staff report recommending that Chatham-Kent waive late payment charges on select businesses for current year tax arrears until July 31, 2021. The move was being proposed in hopes of providing immediate relief from the most recent province-wide lockdown.

However during the discussion Councillor Michael Bondy put forward an amendment that the relief of late payment charges also be provided to residential current year tax arrears through July 31.

“When we talk about small businesses being affected by the lockdowns and loss of revenue, loss of business, that equates to people and families,” said Bondy. “They don’t walk away from their business and leave that debt and turmoil there, it comes home with them.”

According to Director of Financial Services Matt Torrance, the municipality budgets around $1.2-million a year for late penalty charges. If the late fee was waived for property owners through the end of July, it would cost the municipality around $100,000 a month.

Discussions hit a snag when it came to how exactly the municipality would go about forgiving late fees for the residential property class and whether it would be done through an application process or not.

Originally, staff was recommending that the fee relief for small businesses be provided on a request basis and through an application process. In order to qualify, businesses would have had to demonstrate a loss of operating income due to provincial restrictions and have an assessed property value of $2-million or less.

However, Torrance said implementing an application process for residential property owners would be a nearly impossible task for staff to accomplish.

“Operationally, it would be really difficult for staff to handle the volume if we opened up to residential,” Torrance explained.

Torrance said to keep things fair, the preference would be to use the same method for both the residential and commercial classes.

“To go out and tell taxpayers ‘if you’re residential you don’t have to apply, if you’re a small business $2-million or less, you have to apply, and if you’re bigger than that, tough luck, you don’t get any benefit.’ I think we’re heading down a quagmire of difficulty,” said Mayor Darrin Canniff.

In hopes of getting some clarity, Councillor Carmen McGregor ultimately put forward a successful motion to defer the decision to allow time for staff to prepare a report that looks at a feasible solution for all tax classes.

“I just think it should go back with a clear recommendation to come from administration,” she explained. “The intent of it obviously is very positive and needed for our community…but this is a mess right now.”

The report is expected to come back to council at the next meeting on April 19.