Kneehill County council gave an initial nod to a new program that makes it easier for homeowners to pay off property tax debts to the municipality. The discussion was held at the Sept. 12 regular meeting of council.
Property Tax Officer Rajeana Nyman presented councillors with the draft tax arrears payment plan bylaw which she noted was requested by councillors themselves as a way to provide tax relief to homeowners who may be facing financial hardship.
“As per the committee of the whole discussion on June 2023, council advised administration to bring forth a proposal to provide a mechanism that will support residential ratepayers who have encountered issues with paying their property taxes by the municipality’s set due date,” stated Nyman’s report to council.
“The attached bylaw outlines the proposed parameters for a tax arrears payment plan which will serve to support residential ratepayers who have property tax amounts that remain unpaid in the current year or are in tax arrears.
This proposed payment plan, as outlined in the attached tax arrears payment plan bylaw, offers residential ratepayers the opportunity to pay off their arrears through a monthly payment plan.”
Nyman noted in her report the proposed bylaw has the benefits of allowing a property owner to pay off their debt over a period of up to two years penalty-free, but has the drawbacks of slowing tax revenue flow to the county and boosting staff workloads.
“Additionally, it is important to note that there will be no rebate or cancellation of penalties on outstanding balances applied to a ratepayer’s tax bill prior to the date of agreement,” stated Nyman.
“Once the tax arrears payment plan is complete and outstanding taxes are paid in full, the ratepayer is eligible to join the county’s prepaid tax installment payment plan, as per Bylaw 1722.” Nyman noted in her report Kneehill County currently collects $85,000 per month from the tax installment payment plan while payment plans negotiated with oil and gas companies collect $250,000 per month.
It was also noted that if a property owner enters this proposed program then defaults by not making the agreed-upon payment without making other arrangements then that property owner’s program is cancelled.
During discussion, Nyman noted some wording had to be changed in the draft bylaw, as it included all land classes, including agriculture and industrial, rather than just residential as councillors originally asked.
Staff stated councillors could pass first and second readings with the understanding changes needed to be made with third reading planned for a future council meeting.
Coun. Ken King asked for a clarification about past debts owing and current tax bill. Nyman clarified the proposed debt payment plan can include the current tax bill.
Councillors unanimously passed first and second reading of the bylaw, but discussion continued after those resolutions. Coun. King asked for a clarification on which land classes will be eligible for this debt payment program.
Reeve Jerry Wittstock stated he preferred gearing this program towards residential property owners only. “We still got some bad actors,” said Wittstock, adding that some non-residential property owners still argue that they don’t need to pay municipal property taxes. “Well, you do need to do that,” said the reeve.
King stated he agreed with the reeve, even though he realized this bylaw will make more work for county staff. He stated non-residential property owners who want help with their property tax debt will still have to come to council. King noted that because of the history Kneehill County has with some non-residential property owners it’s best they not be included in this program.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen added that during initial discussions of this bylaw, councillors intended it to be aimed at residential property owners.
Staff stated the bylaw will return for third reading at the Sept. 26 regular meeting of council.
Local Journalism Initiative reporter