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Coronavirus: Hamilton council approves tax relief, social-distancing enforcement

People have already been ticketed for using closed escarpment stairs, trails and golf courses in Hamilton during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lisa Polewski

Hamilton city council has approved new measures that Mike Zegarac, the city’s general manager of finance, describes as “some short-term relief” for local taxpayers during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

During a virtual meeting on Wednesday, city council unanimously voted to waive penalties and interest on the April 30 instalment of municipal property taxes for 60 days, until June 30.

READ MORE: City of Hamilton expected to approve tax deferral, mayor asks landlords to ‘exercise judgment’

There will also be a 30-day waiver of penalties and interest on the June 30 instalment.

Zegarac projects a loss in revenue for the city of $500,000, but Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge suggests the impact “could have been much greater” had the relief not been offered.

READ MORE: Burlington offers relief on late tax payments amid COVID-19 pandemic

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The tax relief is available to all property classes and those who pay through preauthorized payment plans. About 64,000 Hamilton taxpayers will have to let the city know if they want to opt out of their April 30 instalment seven business days prior to that date.

Zegarac stresses that municipalities can’t waive taxes in their entirety because “we’re dependent on property taxes as our means of paying for the services that we provide and our collective agreement obligations with our unions and staff.”

City councillors have also approved a motion giving bylaw enforcement the power to hand out $500 fines to those who don’t comply with the social-distancing requirement that people remain two metres, or six feet, apart.

Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark admits he’s “disappointed” that it has come to this because of what he describes as “some misguided, misinformed and perhaps oblivious residents.”

Ward 4’s Sam Merulla also believes there is general acceptance that enforcement is needed, despite some resistance from people who “don’t understand the importance of this distancing and how it plays a role” in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Hamilton city council to implement $500 fines for failing to keep physical distance

Director of licensing and bylaw enforcement Ken Leendertse says his department will be responding to complaints and monitoring hot spots, including churches, this Easter weekend.

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Leendertse adds that he hopes the city can achieve its compliance goal through education and awareness, describing fines as another “tool for our toolkit.”

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