By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: March 7, 2017
Is it a convenience or a burden to lump together taxes and utilities, both due before July 4? Depends on whom you ask. If you believe the district, the decision to streamline both payment into one due date would “increase convenience for residents and businesses.”
Citizens like Anne Bright might see this word play in a different light.
“This can’t be called a convenience for anyone but the district. Perhaps they are over budget again and we tax payers have to suffer for them not planning in advance. Having struggled on Dec 31 to come up with $1,300 in utilities, we were outraged that we now have to come up with utilities by July 4 again. Completely unfair. It should have been discussed and then may be implemented in two years’ time,” she says.
A few weeks ago, the district announced both utilities and taxes are due on July 4, while last year the district allowed the citizens to pay utilities all through the year without any penalty. One due date, the district says, will increase cash flow and reduce bureaucratic inefficiency. As many as 52 per cent of residents paid their utilities by July 4, 2016. By not collecting the other 48 per cent until the end of the year, the district must fund operations throughout the year through short-term borrowing or by forgoing interest on cash balances the municipality holds, it said.“Over the last decade, the District has strived to review every core service to find efficiency and reduce unnecessary processes,” said Mayor, Patricia Heintzman. “This is a welcome and logical next step to streamline the payment process and, ultimately, improve customer service.”
Home owner Nicole Sims isn’t so welcoming of this change. She says that this should have been announced in advance, not in the same year, especially in the year when the assessments are up and many people face a bigger bill.
“Families have a general idea of their tax and utility obligation from year to year, and will have made a budget setting aside the funds according to Squamish’s traditional payment schedule. Suddenly requiring the utility portion to be paid mid-year will cause major hardship for many families, or require them to pay a fine, which benefits the municipality at the expense of citizens. It effectively amounts to an additional tax increase,” she said.
Former council candidate Scott Wengi says the district’s decision to lump the property tax and utility together was a poor decision. “The ability to pay the utility bill off over 6 months from date of receipt made it less financially stressful for residents and the DOS’s initial release stating that combining the two due dates was going to make it more ‘convenient’ for residents was an insult to our intelligence. I can understand some of the reasoning behind the move, but citing cash flow and trying to reduce the need to rely on cash accounts that would otherwise be earning interest was not a good explanation,” he said.
Home owner Margo Dent, however, doesn’t have any issues with the two payments lumped together. “These annual bills are best paid throughout the year and I would think it would be preferable to have large bills paid in the middle of the year rather than in December when many families are overextending themselves with Holiday giving. Yes, an extra year may have made it easier pill to swallow for many folks,” she said. Former council candidate Rob Weys says a more gradual implementation to combine taxes and utilities would have been more responsible and reasonable, but in the long run combining utilities with taxes is better to manage.
District spokesperson Christina Moore said there was a ‘perception’ that payments were due later. “The utilities were due upon receipt of the invoice, however interest was not charged until January 1 when unpaid utility accounts rolled over to tax accounts as arrears, so many residents perceived Dec 31 to be the due date. The change this year is that a late payment penalty has been introduced for utilities after July 4, making July 4th a “hard” deadline,” she said.
The district earlier announced a 10 per cent penalty for late payments, but has split the fine in two 5 per cent penalties. A five per cent late payment penalty will be applied to any outstanding balance on property taxes and utilities on July 5. A second five per cent penalty will kick in for all outstanding balances on August 1. “We appreciate that it’s challenging for residents to be able to pay off a large bill at one time; managing cash flow is something we all grapple with. By introducing the ‘5 and 5’ per cent late payment penalties, we are trying to be sensitive to those who simply missed the deadline, and those who could use a little more time.”