Collingwood will be dipping into the proceeds of the Collus and airport sale for community support measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today council voted unanimously in favour of reserving $2.5 million from the asset sale proceeds for a contingency fund to be used for measures that would provide relief and support to both the business and residential community.
Council also supported spending $250,000-$300,000 of that fund for relief measures including delaying tax and water and wastewater payments for three months and waiving interest fees for the same time period.
Council discussed the fund for nearly two hours this afternoon.
Through councillor’s questions, town staff clarified the money would be set aside, but any spending would go through council for approval of the relief measures.
If the town receives provincial, county, or federal funding for COVID-19 relief, that money will be used to replace what was taken from the asset sale proceeds.
Staff will look through the 2020 budget to find any efficiencies or unspent cash due to COVID-19 cancellations.
“Quick decision-making is important,” said Chief Administrative Officer Fareed Amin. “This is not an attempt to circumvent the process … it is robust enough to give staff and the public confidence that we have some funds to deal with the crisis out there.”
He said the money would be spent in a transparent, accountable, and impactful way.
The town received $18.6 million from the sale of the airport and electric utility, and the money has been saved while the town underwent a public engagement session to decide on how best to spend the funds.
“I think this is a decision the public will want us to make,” said Mayor Brian Saunderson.
CAO Amin said the money is needed now and in the community, and though it is not necessarily within the town’s statutory responsibility to help people struggling to pay rent or a business owner in danger of losing their store, the money could be used for both of those things.
“In times like these, there is no jurisdiction or statutory responsibilities … this is about us stepping up to the plate,” he said. “This will touch every aspect of Collingwood including businesses and residents … Although this is not our primary responsibility, we can respond in a meaningful way.”
Delaying tax payments and water/wastewater payments will be optional.
Collingwood residents now have the option to delay tax payments for the months of March, April, and May. Anyone who has set up pre-authorized payments by cheque with the town should contact the treasury department if they do not want those payments processed. If you want to continue with your regular payments, you do not need to do anything.
According to Marjory Leonard, treasurer for Collingwood, said there are about 12,000 residential and commercial properties in Collingwood, and 3,000 of those pay taxes through pre-authorized payments not through a third-party financial institution.
The tax deferral option is available to both residential and commercial properties. The treasurer estimated the tax deferrals will cost the town approximately $40,000 in interest per month.
There will also be an option to put off paying water and wastewater charges without interest or late fees for the same three months. The bills will still be issued through EPCOR, but no late fees will be applied. Again, residents set up for pre-authorized payments need to let EPCOR know to stop payment for three months.
A staff report estimates the cost of waiving penalties and interest on water and wastewater accounts will result in lost revenue of $25,000 per month.
In addition to those costs, the town also anticipates lost revenue of $65,000 per month due to recreation facilities being closed, and 46,700 per month in lost parking revenue.
Staff have now determined the recreation facility shut down will last until at least the end of April.
Other costs so far related to the COVID-19 pandemic include emergency funding for Out of the Cold, and lost revenues from bylaw and parking services. No parking tickets are being issued right now except for parking in fire routes.
Further proposals for community relief measures will be brought by staff to council soon.