Council seeks solution for unpaid bills

Prince Albert City Hall. Herald File Photo

Council will consider a motion to tack unpaid utility bills onto property taxes, potentially leaving landlords stuck with their tenants’ debts.

The motion, carried at executive committee on Tuesday, will now go before a regular session of council. It directs administration to “implement a process” to add outstanding utility arrears to the “property taxes of the landlord or owner of the property.”

City Manager Jim Toye said the change will help the city recover lost revenue.

“This is costing the city upwards of $170,000 a year. What we do is put it in arrears and send it to a collection agency. Really we don’t have a lot of luck,” he said. “This is a much better opportunity.”

He said that renting out properties is a business, “and business involves risk.” But he stressed that he hopes the city won’t have to make use of the policy.

Council agreed, and passed the motion. During debate, they discussed how the process should go forward. Councillor Zurakowski said there should be consultation with landlords before the measure is put into effect.

“Will that process include a public meeting, a public hearing and consultation with the landlord association?” he asked.

“I’m not expecting a positive answer from them, and I’m OK with that. But I think, for consultation, we need to have that investigation.”

Finance Director Steve Brown said he anticipates sending out letters to the landlords across the city.

Councillor Blake Edwards pointed out one unfortunate cost of the policy: it’s likely to drive up rents across the city.

“I think we’re going to drive up rent prices for sure,” he said. “If I was a landlord I would be making them prepay ahead of the game… The potential of adding that to my property taxes, I’m going to make them pay extra rent.”

Councillor Terra Lennox-Zepp agreed that rent increases are “very likely to happen.” She said that landlords might incorporate utility charges into rental fees, something she said could be “very positive for our city accounting.”