FOR THE GAZETTE
Funding from the Prince Edward County Climate Emergency carry-over has been granted to Prince Edward Learning Centre for a year-long expansion and continuation of financial empowerment services to local residents.
At Tuesday’s regular council meeting, a Community Services, Programs and Initiatives report was presented with the intention to support residents struggling to pay municipal bills or costs associated with living expenses. Starting October 2021, a grant of $62,100 will allow the funding of a tax clinic as well as help residents pay their bills through community organization referrals. Todd Davis, Director of Community Services, Programs and Initiatives, clarified last year, municipal staff sought out ways to help PELC with funding.
Because of this, PELC was able to process taxes for 334 residents which resulted in a total return and benefit in excess of $1 million.
“Every person that participated got over $3,000 in income tax returns. Through that work, PELC also assisted over 149 people in applying to the Ontario Electrical Support in the Low Income Energy Support programs that gave them another $91,400 toward their utility bills,” Davis said. “This would be sort of a dual-functioning opportunity for those that need to apply through some of the provincial programs to help them with perhaps water and wastewater bills if they live in the service areas.”
Davis said this would be a direct benefit to the municipality along with the ability for some residents to be able to submit and claim their taxes, which he said proved critical in 2020 for community members who needed up-to-date taxes to apply for grant or funding opportunities through things like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
Coun. Bill Roberts noted the essential expansion of these services is much more than simply a tax return assistance program.
“I see this connected to affordable housing and I see this connected to our community’s covid recovery, and by that, I see the $1.038 million coming back into our economy as a tax return to residents as part of covid recovery especially for lower income groups,” he said. “I see the $91,400 to pay utility bills as being part of making housing more affordable for those groups in our community. Do you see it that way as well?”
Davis agreed, saying it goes beyond ensuring residents the return of their tax dollars.
“Those dollars are returned to the residents in our community help alleviate situations of poverty. They also circulate those dollars within our community in keeping our businesses alive, and certainly the same in terms of the critical role that it plays both in recovery but also keeping people in houses or keeping their accommodation affordable at a time when they may be much more challenged to receive either quantified employment or some of the other benefits,” he said.
Coun. Kate MacNaughton noted through the report, the finance department is already utilizing PELC as a referral organization so the centre can ultimately become a service provider for these tax programs. She asked if there are other existing programs that have been allocated additional funds with respect to affordability for homeowners or renters.
Davis said there is increased funding to a suite of different activities and funds through social services, and believes that all available funds have been topped up by the province. He also reflected upon earlier conversations about referral opportunities with Housing Manager Connor Dorey.
“We refer to Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services (PELASS), the Ontario Energy Board and Community Care for Seniors for appropriate resources,” he said. “We acknowledge and encourage all of those existing programs for our residents to meet the challenges they are finding especially in a year like 2020 and 2021.”
Coun. Bill Roberts asked if this type of benefit is a one-time situation or if Davis and finance staff have met with PELC to discuss a multi-year component. Davis said PELC staff have aggressively been looking at how to make this a sustainable program without having a substantial amount of money needed to be paid out by the municipality or other organizations.
“This gives us some stability through 2021 and into 2022 to fund this sort of work being done by our partner at the learning centre, but also gives us some breathing space so we can try to find programs like the Prosperity Gateway program that could help fund it on a longer term basis,” he explained.
Davis said the finance department will spread the message through working with social services partners and the public library system, using the existing County communications infrastructure, looking at social media and targeted advertising.
“This has been centred around the PELC location but the intention is these opportunities need to be brought to the various parts of Prince Edward County, so we are going to use a series of different tactics,” he said. He said the commitment is to make it a mobile or virtual program so those outside of Picton can access the benefits.