The District of Saanich is imposing new rules for overdue utility payments, following a review of late fees by the finance, audit and personnel committee.
On Monday, council confirmed the committee’s recommendation to set a five-per-cent penalty for unpaid utility balances after 45-days, starting with the first billing cycle of 2016. The recommendation falls in line with penalties in Victoria and Esquimalt, and offers a longer time frame for payment than Oak Bay and Sidney.
The recommendation also allows for a one-time exemption to the penalty, regardless of circumstance, per property per owner. The penalty removal applies to residential customers only and must be requested in writing, by phone or email.
Coun. Colin Plant addressed concerns from the public, highlighting the exemption as a show of good faith from the district.
“We are matching what other municipalities are doing, and if you are late at any one time on a payment or if there’s an accidental forgetting or some other challenge, you can apply for and get, without any question, a one-time exemption from that penalty,” he said.
Recognizing Saanich has many longstanding residents, Coun. Vic Derman asked if an additional exemption could be added after an extended period of time.
“I’m thinking of the longtime resident who has a problem forgetting, and we come back and say, ‘Well, 25 years ago, you had an exemption,’” he said. “I would suggest that we may want to, at some point, look at something like a decade (as a time frame).”
Plant moved an amendment to allow one new exemption every 10 years, but Derman mentioned he would vote against the amendment, noting council had a whole decade to make a decision.
“We have a long time to do that, and we can certainly make it retroactive,” said Dermnan.
While Coun. Dean Murdock shared the same opinion as Derman, Mayor Richard Atwell suggested council vote on the amendment instead of putting it off.
The amendment was carried with Derman opposed, and the recommendation was carried unanimously.