The Wood Buffalo council is trying to provide both relief and hope to residents who continue to struggle in the wake of May’s devastating wildfire.
A special meeting was called Tuesday night as councillors aimed to ease some of the burden for people most impacted by the fire as soon as possible.
At the meeting, councillors first discussed and then unanimously voted to pass a motion to refund a portion of property taxes for the time residents have been away from their homes.
That means everyone would get about one month’s worth of residential tax credit for the evacuation period. Others whose communities remain uninhabitable, or those who lost their homes, would get even more money back.
“This is all about a statement of caring that we as a committee and we as a municipality care about our residents,” Coun. Sheldon Germain said at the meeting.
“For me, for the month I was away it was very minimal – probably about $120 to $130 – but in this sense, it’s more to do with the people that weren’t really allowed home for four or five months,” Coun. Keith McGrath said. “For people that have nothing but ash in their basement – that’s what it’s all about.”
Council also looked at removing a restriction on development permits.
Currently, if you lost your house and wanted to rebuild, you could only get a permit if it’s approved by the chief medical officer. However, some people feel that’s just adding red tape to the process and slowing down the rebuild effort.
Councillors voted to approve the first reading of a motion to repeal the bylaw Tuesday night.
“It’s critical,” Germain said. “It’s going to say a lot to our residents that, ‘hey we’ve got a chance, we’ve got hope, we can start rebuilding. It’s just a matter of working through the process.’ It’s a big step.”
The council meeting began at 6 p.m.
On Wednesday, hundreds of select residents in the Beacon Hill and Abasand neighbourhoods will finally be allowed back home for good.
Watch below: Councillors with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo are attending a special meeting Tuesday to consider offering tax breaks to some homeowners forced to flee the Fort McMurray wildfire in May. Sarah Kraus reports.
With files from Sarah Kraus, Phil Heidenreich and Jennifer Ivanov.