Ottawa residents whose properties have been damaged by record-breaking flooding over the last several weeks may be eligible for an almost six-month extension on paying their final property tax bill this year.
Ottawa city council on Wednesday unanimously approved a motion to defer the final tax deadline from June 20 to Dec. 5, 2019, primarily for properties in the five wards hardest-hit by the bloated Ottawa River: West Carleton-March, Bay, Kitchissippi, Cumberland and Orléans.
The motion was moved by Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais and Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, both of whom represent communities seriously affected by the floods since mid-April.
The snowmelt and heavy rain last month caused the Ottawa River to swell and spill over into many communities along its shoreline, prompting many townships and cities, including Ottawa, to declare states of emergency and request help from the Canadian Armed Forces.
City officials say Ottawa will maintain its state of emergency for now.
Just because a property was damaged by the high waters, however, doesn’t make the owner automatically eligible for the tax bill deferral. Residents have to meet five criteria in order to qualify for the extension.
Notably, they cannot have any outstanding property tax payments (aside from the final June payment) and their property must have been occupied in 2019 by “a residence or business which was damaged by the flooding,” and cannot operate as normal as a result.
According to the written motion, the property-tax extension also isn’t limited to the five wards identified.
The original June 20 tax deadline continues to apply to all other Ottawa residents.
Other forms of financial relief from other sources are being offered to homeowners affected by the floods. On Tuesday, the Ontario government extended eligibility for its disaster recovery assistance program to designated areas in the City of Ottawa, the City of Clarence-Rockland, the Township of Alfred and Plantagenet and Champlain Township.
Hydro Ottawa and Hydro One are both waiving all connection and delivery fees for customers who had to have their power disconnected as waters reached dangerous levels. The Electrical Safety Authority also announced on Tuesday that it would waive all inspection fees for flood-impacted residents moving to restore their electricity.
City staff to report on flood-proofing properties during rebuild
City council on Wednesday also ordered city staff to review the flood-damaged properties across the city and report back on how the municipality can allow affected homeowners to rebuild them to be more resistant to future flooding.
Historically, Ontario has had some of “the most rigorous flood-prevention policies” for new developments in the country, but owners of properties built before those rules existed have a “legal, non-conforming right to retain,” Stephen Willis, head of planning at the City of Ottawa, told councillors.
The city hopes to convince affected residents who insist on keeping their properties along the Ottawa River to “adapt their buildings to be more flood-resistant,” Willis said.
Councillors unanimously approved a separate motion on that issue moved by councillor and planning committee chair Jan Harder. In doing so, council also endorsed waiving the fees associated with demolition permits and building applications.
Coun. Mathieu Fleury also asked staff whether the Ontario government is considering buying out properties in flood plains as a long-term solution, similar to Quebec.
Anthony Di Monte, the city’s general manager of emergency and protective services, said Ottawa isn’t aware of any discussions on buyouts at the provincial level at the moment.
Staff are expected to submit their recommendations for rebuilding flood-damaged properties by the end of August.