COVID-19 Updates for Local Governments & Improvement Districts

  • Non-health news, announcements, information and advice from the BC government to help local governments manage and begin to open their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last updated: September 29, 2020

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Restarting Local Governments

B.C.’s Restart Plan sets out a careful, four-phase approach to restarting the province. Working in concert with public health monitoring from the Provincial Health Officer (PHO), the plan gradually allows for more social and economic activity. The reopening of local governments, businesses and other organizations must comply with public health and safety guidance from the PHO and WorkSafeBC.

We are currently in Phase 3 of the safe restart plan. That means travelling safely within B.C. and more sectors having the guidance they need for safe operation.

WorkSafeBC Resources

There are key resources for local governments as they develop their own transition plans, and for different sectors in communities – most important is guidance from WorkSafeBC

WorkSafeBC has issued guidance for many sectors including; accommodation; arts and cultural facilities; offices; parks; restaurants, cafes, and pubs; retail; childcare; and gyms and fitness centres (which includes recreation centres); sports and recreation; and parks and tourism.

Local Government Resources

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will continue to provide local governments with information and a connection into the broader B.C. Government to help with local government transitions, to address questions and to connect local governments with resources as they become available that may be important to local governments beginning to re-open their communities.


Recovery Funding Support

Canada-B.C. Safe Restart Fund for Local Governments

The Canada-B.C. Safe Restart Fund will provide up to $540 million in federal and provincial funding (50/50 cost shared) to local governments throughout British Columbia to support operating costs and revenues impact due to COVID-19.  The funding will be administered through three streams:

  • $425 million for Local Governments to address local government facility reopening and operating costs, emergency response costs, lost revenues and other COVID-19-related impacts;
  • $100 million for Strengthening Communities to support local governments in addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, the challenges posed in local communities by homelessness, and community concerns with street disorder and safety; and,
  • $15 million for Development Services to continue the work identified through the Development Approvals Process Review (DAPR) and support innovative local government efforts to improve the efficiency of development approval processes.

Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program

The Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP) will provide one-time infrastructure grants to local governments, Indigenous applicants and not-for-profit organizations for projects in communities throughout British Columbia.

Under CERIP, the Province is committing up to $100 million to support community economic resilience, tourism, heritage, and urban and rural economic development projects. The projects will help communities impacted by COVID-19 and support B.C.'s post-pandemic economic recovery.


Governance & Operations

Bylaw Enforcement

Order M314 authorizes police and other enforcement officers the ability to issue $2,000 violation tickets for contraventions of the Provincial Health Officer’s order on gatherings and events, and $200 violation tickets for individuals not following the direction of police or enforcement staff at events, or engaging in unsafe or aggressive behaviour at large gatherings or in businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

By-Elections & Assent Voting

Local governments with council or board vacancies will determine when to hold by-elections in consultation with public health officials and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The ministry is working with local governments and its election partners to ensure each community will have the supports they need to safely proceed with by-elections or assent votes in their communities.

Meetings

Local governments continue to be able to hold council and board meetings electronically during this state of emergency; however, they are now required to make “best efforts” to hold council and board meetings that are open to the public and to provide facilities that enable the public to hear, or watch and hear electronic meetings.

In-person council and board meetings are subject to both Order M192 and the PHO Order on Gatherings and Events that limits the number of people in attendance and requires collecting (and retaining for 30 days) the contact information of those present.

Local governments who are unable, after best efforts, to provide space for the public to attend open meetings or provide facilities that allow the public to hear, or watch and hear, the meeting must pass a resolution stating the basis for why they are unable to do so and the means by which they are ensuring openness, transparency, accessibility and accountability in respect of the meeting.

Approval Processes

Local governments that have projects requiring an alternative approval process (AAP) will want to consider health and safety procedures for the AAP process. This may include how the public will access and submit AAP forms while physical distancing, increased communication to ensure the public are informed and providing a longer time line for the AAP process.

Local governments that need to proceed with assent voting in their community will want to reference the guidance material provided by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Bylaw Approvals

Minister Order 192 [Local Government Meetings & Bylaw Process] repeals the authority for expedited passage of bylaws that was provided under M139. Municipalities may continue to do three readings and the adoption of certain financial bylaws in the same day.

Local governments may find there are longer timelines for the bylaw approvals process provided by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

If a bylaw requires urgent review, please provide a rationale for why it is critical to operations when the bylaw is sent for review. Email bylaws to LGgovernance@gov.bc.ca.


Public Hearings

Local governments are required to hold public hearings prior to adopting certain land use bylaws, such as official community plans (OCPs) and some zoning bylaw amendments.

At a public hearing, persons who believe that their interest in a property is affected by a proposed land use bylaw must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to be heard or to present written submissions.

Local governments are now enabled to hold public hearings electronically so they can continue to make important land use decisions while complying with the public health order on mass gatherings and the recommendations on safe physical distancing. In-person public hearings are subject to both Order M192 and the PHO Order on Gatherings and Events that limits the number of people in attendance and requires collecting (and retaining for 30 days) the contact information of those present.

Find ways to keep people informed of any changes to public hearing processes – through the local government website and by using social media platforms.


Climate Action Revenue Incentive Program (CARIP)

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and in response to a high volume of requests from local governments, CARIP reporting requirements are waived for the 2019 reporting year.

Local governments must have signed the B.C. Climate Action Charter and have committed to take action and develop climate action-related strategies to be eligible for the grant.


Finances

Local governments are encouraged to maintain a strong level of cash assets, prioritize core municipal operations, and possibly defer non-essential capital expenditures until the COVID-19 pandemic no longer poses a threat to public health.

For 2020, local governments are authorized to:

  • Borrow, interest-free, from existing reserve funds (including funds for capital purposes) to help pay for operating expenses, such as employee salaries (this borrowing may be repaid over five years without interest)
  • Delay provincial school and police tax remittances until the end of the year (though this money must be prioritized to ensure full remittances to other public authorities)
  • Carry 2020 revenue anticipation borrowing for an additional year, which means local governments have two years to pay back a revenue anticipation loan, instead of a previous limit of one year

School tax rates for commercial properties will be reduced for the 2020 tax year by $720 million (or approximately 25% of the total property tax burden levied on all commercial properties).

Commercial properties include:

  • Class 4 (Major Industry)
  • Class 5 (Light Industry)
  • Class 6 (Business and Other)
  • Class 7 (Managed Forests)
  • Class 8 (Recreation/Non-profit)

The penalties for late payment on these commercial classes will be postponed to October 1, 2020. The last payment date will without penalty will be September 30, 2020.

Municipalities are still required to meet their remittances to other public authorities such as regional districts, regional hospital districts, TransLink and transit authorities, BC Assessment, the Municipal Finance Authority, Greater Vancouver Water District, Greater Vancouver Sewage and Drainage District, and other public authorities.

In the case of public authorities that have multiple remittance dates, such as TransLink and BC Assessment, municipalities must prioritize full remittance in August to ensure these authorities have the necessary cash flows to meet their operational requirements.

Submitting Financial Reports

The deadline for annual reports, Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) reports, audited financial statements and Local Government Data Entry (LGDE) forms is August 31, 2020.

Local governments that can complete and submit these reports before the August 31 deadline are encouraged to do so.

Bylaws

Bylaw submission can be done electronically through LGgovernance@gov.bc.ca.

  • Local Government Data Entry (LGDE) forms and LGDE tax forms can be submitted through the LGDE system
  • New this year, there will be a “Document Submission” option in the LGDE system that will allow local governments to submit other financial documents through the LGDE system, including:
    • SOFI reports
    • Audited financial statements
    • Budgets
    • Tax bylaws 
  • Questions regarding this new submission portal or other financial questions can be emailed to LGDE@gov.bc.ca 

Manual mail submissions will still be accepted. Mail submissions may take longer to process. 


Improvement District Governance & Finance

Annual General Meetings & Elections

Ministerial Order M336 (Order M336) provides improvement districts the authority to set an election date separate from its annual general meeting (AGM). Order M336 also removes the requirement that the improvement district hold its AGM during the time frame set out in its letters patent (e.g. January 1 to May 1).

Separating the election from the AGM spreads out in-person interactions and reduces the likelihood the AGMs will exceed the Provincial Health Officer’s (PHO) limit on gatherings and events to no more than 50 people. The ability to hold elections separate from the AGM allows improvement districts to choose to conduct advance or mail-ballot voting.

Order M336 allows improvement districts to hold its AGM at different times of the year, which offers greater flexibility in planning. For example, improvement districts that have large seasonal populations may wish to hold AGMs in the summer when more landowners are at their property and the new order allows them to do that. The Order also provides the flexibility for improvement districts to postpone its AGM beyond the time frame that is set out in its letters patent prior to the amendment under Order M336, in case of future emergencies. Under the Local Government Act AGMs must be held every 12 months and Order M336 amends improvement district letters patent to require that elections be held once every calendar year.

In March 2020, the deadline to hold AGMs was extended until the end of the calendar year. Trustee terms of office were also extended to the end of 2020 to allow improvement districts the time to plan for and conduct safe, physically distanced elections.

Improvement districts that have not already done so are encouraged to develop plans to safely conduct AGMs and elections respecting physically distancing guidelines set out by the PHO.

Trustees list, statistics and AGM minutes may be submitted when they are available after the 2020 rescheduled AGM has been held.

Improvement districts that opt to hold AGMs (after 2020) later than May 15 must continue to have financial statements audited, presented to the board for acceptance and submitted to the Inspector of Municipalities before May 15 each year. Improvement districts may wish to post financial statements on the web or send them to the landowners. For 2020, the submission deadline has been extended to the end of the calendar year. Financial statements may be submitted to LGIF@gov.bc.ca

Electronic Meetings

The COVID-19 Related Measures Act and Ministerial Order 192 provide improvement districts the temporary authority to hold meetings electronically (excluding the AGM).

For questions regarding improvement district finance please contact your Financial Officer or LGIF@gov.bc.ca.

For questions regarding governance and meetings please contact LGgovernance@gov.bc.ca.