As COVID-19 hits the economy hard, Oxford County staff and councillors are set to consider some measures that could offer financial relief to residents and businesses across the county.
At a virtual meeting on April 8, councillors considered the measures by the federal and provincial governments to help the economy, and had early discussions about what possible local measures could help.
While many relief efforts take place at higher levels of government, the report presented to council explores the possibility of creating a small business relief fund as a form of economic stimulus.
“Small business represents a significant portion of Oxford County’s economy and, if not sufficiently supported, there will be a devastating impact on the local economic vitality, health and well-being of our community,” the report noted.
The county could replicate this fund to support small businesses with immediate financial needs in addition to any federal measures.
“Unlike the Future Oxford Legacy Fund, a county economic stimulus fund could be designed to provide limited operational funding to assist in meeting immediate financial needs that have resulted from the effects of COVID-19, allowing a more expeditious economic recovery by complementing the federal government’s loan programs for small business and not-for-profits,” the report stated.
The report also explores some other oft-discussed measures, such as suspending property taxes and bag tag fees – two things that, according to staff, are more complicated than they might seem.
Bag tags, for instance, contribute about $270,000 a month to county revenue. Instead of suspending the need for bag tags, the county said it’s allowing residents self-isolating to order the tags by email or over the phone.
Coun. Stephen Molnar made the motion that council should consider Tillsonburg’s support of suspending bag tags and water and sewage fees, which the town approved at a March meeting.
The Tillsonburg proposal suggested bag tags be suspended for 60 days and the loss of revenue covered by the waste reserve fund. For water and sewage fees, Tillsonburg council is suggesting that fees be reduced or payments deferred from April to May 31, and the loss offset by the sewer and water reserve funds.
There was no specific decision made regarding bag tags at the April 8 meeting.
The county currently has a financial hardship property tax program available for low-income seniors or people with disabilities. That program is currently available, the county noted.
Deferring taxes is more complicated because area municipalities are required by bylaw to pay their portions to Oxford County by a set date – the next of which is at the end of June. Council could explore deferring those payments but, according to its own bylaw, municipalities would still be required to pay interest charges, unless council amended its bylaw.
The county’s area municipal finance group is expected to keep meeting during COVID-19, and come back to council with further recommendations.
However, area municipalities have already suspended late penalties and interest for April and May, and those on a preauthorized payment plan can request to have this payments deferred.
While he supports the county taking economic recovery measures, Molnar said he thinks there is more need for “immediacy.”
“I speak in support of the opportunities available in a generic way, but there is no immediacy in the text of the resolution,” Molnar said. “Nothing in the resolutions speaks to the urgency of the situation we have right across the County of Oxford.”
Staff will prepare a report in partnership with Community Futures Oxford and report back to council in the future.