St. Mary’s council seeks ways to shoulder burden of COVID-19

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
April 15 2020

SHERBROOKE – Acknowledging that “people are hurting” under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, municipal councilors in St. Mary’s have waived interest charges on area water bills for three months.

The resolution passed unanimously at the April 14 regular council meeting, following a recommendation by the Committee of the Whole (COTW) last week where other load-lightening measures were considered, including a new municipal tax-billing strategy for Nova Scotia and a letter urging the provincial government to formally classify funeral home personnel as essential services workers.

Service fees on water bills for the fiscal quarter ending March 31, which are normally due this month, were stayed until August. Other options council considered included extensions of between two and four weeks. But they determined the longer deferral was the best choice. Director of Finance Marian Fraser explained the measure would only cover debts for the most recent period passed, “not any previous balances or arrears on accounts.”

At the COTW, Warden Michael Mosher presented a provincewide proposal from the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities to harmonize municipal tax structures and reduce rates, where possible. Following a Zoom conference call he, St. Mary’s Chief Administrative Officer Marvin MacDonald, and their counterparts from 87 other communities attended, he said the NSFM wants to “create a province-wide tax billing strategy…a universal approach to eliminating a patchwork…in response to the financial burden caused by the COVID-109 pandemic.”

Mosher added that since tax bills in St. Mary’s won’t be sent until next month, there’s still time to analyze the local implications of any new proposal. “It’s a work in progress,” he said. “We will have a chance to vote on it.”

Meanwhile, the COTW’s decision to consider sending a letter urging the province to officially designate directors and staff of area funeral homes as emergency services personnel was prompted by a request from Lewis MacIntosh, director of G.W. Giffin Funeral Home in Country Harbour, who was featured in last week’s Guysborough Journal story, Funeral homes at the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis.

Council indicated it would look into the Province’s reasons, if any, for failing to include funeral workers in this category, which provides access to the personal protective equipment available to doctors, nurses, and emergency medical technicians.

Earlier this month, British Columbia – with 1,445 confirmed, 879 recovered, and 58 terminal cases of COVID-19 – added coroners and workers “performing mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries” to its list of essential service providers.