County of Stettler council turned down by a 5 to 2 vote a request to forgive over $3,000 in late tax penalties. The decision was made at the April 14 regular meeting of council.
Councillors listened to a report from Property Tax Clerk Sharon Larsen that a property owner who owed a substantial amount of taxes to the county was asking for $3,072.90 in late penalties to be waived or reduced.
“I’m writing this letter to address the unpaid taxes at my acreage located at (redacted),” stated the March 28 letter, which had all identification removed.
“I cleared up the taxes in 2018 when I moved into my own home and (name removed) chose to ignore the invoices and the requests for payment. As of today I have cleared up the entire principle amount owing.
“What I’m asking from council is that they consider waiving/reducing the interest and penalties. What I will offer in return is to pay 2021 taxes in full as soon as they are available.”
It was stated in the agenda memo some mail sent to the property owner couldn’t be delivered. “The County did receive returned mail back for this account,” stated the agenda memo.
Larsen stated, “It is the responsibility of the ratepayer or person named on title to ensure that his or her property taxes are paid. Even when the taxes are paid by the mortgage holder it is essentially the ratepayer’s responsibility to ensure or check that the taxes were paid.”
In her report to council Larsen noted, “The ratepayer’s tax account has been outstanding since 2018 and the tax recovery process has been initiated by placing a tax notification on the land title in 2020.” Larsen stated that once the tax recovery sale process has begun, it ends as soon as the unpaid tax bill is settled.
During discussion, Coun. James Nibourg asked if a reason had been given why the tax bill, over $11,000, had been unpaid for so long. Larsen stated some payment had been made in 2018 for the 2017 tax bill and the only information she had is that the registered owner of the property moved out, the wife and kids still lived there and that the tax bill hadn’t been paid in full.
Larsen further stated the property could go up for tax recovery sale in 2021 if the situation proceeded as it had in the past. The county can also send the property owner a bill for the staff costs related to this situation.
Larsen stated the county has waived some penalties for unpaid or late taxes recently related to property owners facing COVID-19 difficulties.
“Council stated in October 2020 that they would consider offering the November 1, 2020 and February 1, 2021 tax penalty forgiveness to the businesses and individuals in the municipality that are feeling the effects from COVID and the economic downturn experienced in 2020. If the taxes were not in arrears prior to 2020, the Council would look at cancelling the penalty of November 2020 and February 2021 provided the ratepayer paid the current amount of taxes prior to January 29, 2021. The intent of this relief was to help those suffering financial difficulties caused by the pandemic not for those who are simply behind in paying their tax bill.”
Coun. Ernie Gendre moved that the county forgive 50 per cent of the over $3,000 owing, noting the county could be “lenient but not totally write this off.” That motion was defeated by a 2 to 5 vote, Gendre and Coun. Cheri Neitz in favour and the rest opposed.
With that, it was noted that the property owner would be expected to pay the full penalty of $3,072.90.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter