To the Port Colborne Community,
On March 23, 2020, City Council approved Port Colborne’s City Budget and Water/Wastewater Budget. Both budgets included increases in the rates for 2020. In the time since these budgets were passed, a number of residents have reached out to our City Council members and directly to me. Some residents have also contacted the City on our social media accounts.
We understand that there is an economic effect as it pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic across the country and right here in Port Colborne on our local ratepayers. However, the City has an obligation to continue to offer programs and services that benefit our community and to provide safe, clean drinking water to our residents.
The City has to follow provincial legislated requirements to put these budgets in place and staff have been preparing the budgets since last year, well before the coronavirus started to impact the country. The province also requires that the City have a balanced budget – that means that the City cannot budget for a surplus (extra money) or a deficit (a shortfall). A further rule requires that the water/wastewater budget remain independent of the City budget; that is, tax money cannot be used for water/wastewater and water/wastewater money cannot be used for the City budget.
Council approved a base property tax budget that included no increases in the programs and services that we provide in the Port Colborne community. The water/wastewater budget is made up of the cost of buying water from the Region and keeping our Water Division in place to ensure that water is safely delivered to each household. This year there was a substantial increase in the cost of water from the Region, yet Council was still able to hold the increase in rates to a much smaller amount than the increased cost of water.
In terms of COVID-19, City Council is aware that this will affect our ratepayers at home. On the same day that Council approved these budgets, we also approved a temporary interest and penalty waiver. We were one of the first municipalities in Niagara to provide relief, and at the time we chose a date of April 30, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves we have decided to extend the exemption date to June 30, 2020. If ratepayers in Port Colborne are unable to pay their installments on time due to layoffs or any other reason resulting from COVID-19, there will be no penalties applied to their water or property tax accounts until June 30, 2020. This will help residents who have their employment affected but are waiting for support from the Federal or Provincial government.
I would like to leave you with a final message. All of your Members of Council are taxpayers and water ratepayers too, and we realize that we were elected to represent all of Port Colborne and to govern with your best interests at heart. I can assure you that all of your Members of Council make decisions, especially financial decisions, very carefully and we are always mindful of how all of us will be affected. COVID-19 is having significant impacts across the country but I am confident that our resilient residents and businesses in Port Colborne will work together to get through this – I have tremendous faith in our community.
Please continue to contact me and your other Members of Council to discuss these important issues in Port Colborne.
Mayor William C. Steele