Town of Stettler council debated whether or not to keep their COVID-style tax deadlines and penalties, and ultimately decided to keep things status quo, but only for 2021. The debate was held at the April 20 regular meeting of council.
Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Greg Switenky and Assistant CAO Steven Gerlitz presented councillors with a verbal update on how the town handled property tax deadlines last year amid much pandemic uncertainty.
Normally, the Town of Settler property tax deadline is at the end of June. Gerlitz reminded councillors they pushed back the tax deadline last year into the fall amidst the uncertainty caused by COVID.
As tax season is approaching, Gerlitz asked councillors how they would like to handle it in 2021.
Gerlitz stated councillors had a few options before them, including returning the tax deadline to pre-COVID dates or keeping the COVID dates. Gerlitz also stated some property owners complained about the property tax penalties, as the total 24 per cent penalty broken up into two 12 per cent increments was too harsh for some people.
Switenky stated he was not aware of a lot of other communities keeping their COVID dates for property tax deadlines, but added that the Stettler council was free to do what they saw fit, not necessarily what other communities were doing.
Coun. Wayne Smith stated he felt it was time for the town to go back to pre-COVID dates. Smith stated that even though the pandemic continues, the situation is much more stable than it was a year ago.
Coun. Al Campbell responded that he didn’t necessarily disagree with Smith, but wondered what effect that would have on residents and businesses in Stettler who still need help.
Coun. Cheryl Barros stated she agreed with Smith.
Staff and councillors discussed last year’s property tax payments and it was stated a large number of Stettler property taxes were still paid relatively early and there was not a huge amount of unpaid taxes left late in the year. In fact, noted Gerlitz, it was comparable to previous non-COVID years.
Coun. Malcolm Fischer stated he had sympathy for people suffering financially from the pandemic but also felt there would always be people who pay their taxes late no matter what the deadline was.
Coun. Gord Lawlor stated he was hesitant to put everything back to pre-COVID dates as the pandemic wasn’t over. Lawlor stated he was concerned about the effect on the business community.
Mayor Sean Nolls agreed with Lawlor, stating he was in favour of keeping the later property tax deadlines with a staggered late penalty, perhaps a three per cent penalty followed by a nine per cent penalty and finally a 12 per cent penalty instead of the 12 and 12 per cent.
Nolls stated his reasoning was that gathering restrictions could still be in place for much of the summer and businesses have to follow the 15 per cent maximum occupancy rule, which limits the amount of revenue they can generate.
Nolls stated if the property tax deadline is pushed back into October, occupancy restrictions should, in theory, be mostly lifted before then, allowing businesses more cash flow and a better ability to pay their property taxes.
Smith responded he didn’t have a problem pushing the property tax deadline back to October or using a staggered approach to the tax penalties but didn’t feel it would have a huge effect on property owners and saw it as more of a goodwill gesture.
Councillors seemed to agree with the mayor’s suggestion but also agreed this would only be for 2021, and next year all deadlines would return to normal.
Switenky noted no resolution was necessary from council as staff would bring back the 2021 tax bylaw to the next meeting based on the elements council had agreed on.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter