Stettler town council turned down a request from a property owner to waive late penalty fees after she spoke directly to them at their Dec. 15 regular meeting.
Krista Dryden sent an email to town council requesting forgiveness of about $400 in late fees for her 2020 property taxes.
During her presentation, Dryden noted she originally thought she paid her tax bill Oct. 30, which was actually the proper deadline. As it turned out, she actually paid the next day, Oct. 31.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Steven Gerlitz presented councillors with a report on Dryden’s request, and stated town staff went out of their way to publicize the fact the property tax deadline was later this year than usual after council approved pushing back deadlines due to the pandemic.
Gerlitz reported the reminder was publicly advertised many times and a warning letter was also sent out the first week of November noting a deadline had been missed and a penalty of 12 per cent, approved by council earlier this year, was applied.
Gerlitz noted town staff don’t have authority to waive tax penalties unless they resulted from a staff mistake.
He presented a report that showed Dryden made online payments Oct. 31 which took until Nov. 3 for processing.
Dryden stated she’s never been late paying her taxes before and although she owns property in town, she actually lives in Stettler County and doesn’t necessarily get notices sent out by the town.
CAO Greg Switenky stated that in the 17 years he’s worked for the town, council has never forgiven a late penalty, and Dryden’s payment was past the advertised deadline.
Switenky also stated formal tax notices had the Oct. 30 date on them, and Dryden stated she did get the formal tax notice.
Mayor Sean Nolls stated if council forgave Dryden’s penalties, the town morally had no choice but to do the same for everyone in the same situation.
Gerlitz stated about 2,500 people paid their taxes on time, with about 171 unpaid by the Oct. 30 deadline.
Coun. Scott Pfeiffer stated the processing time for online payments has been a problem in other communities.
Coun. Malcolm Fischer stated the pandemic year has been difficult and felt some compassion could be shown to Dryden, although waiving penalties shouldn’t become a policy.
Coun. Gord Lawlor stated 2020 has been a weird year, but waiving penalties for Dryden could set a precedent.
Coun. Cheryl Barros stated she understood Dryden’s mistake but deadlines have to be followed and helping Dryden wouldn’t be fair to everyone else who paid on time.
Coun. Wayne Smith stated he agreed with Barros and understood Dryden made a mistake but waiving the penalties would also be a mistake.
Coun. Al Campbell stated he’d consider helping Dryden but everyone’s late penalties should be waived, not just Dryden’s.
Nolls questioned that approach. “What does a deadline mean if we forgive those debts?” asked the mayor. Campbell responded COVID has caused a lot of trouble in 2020.
Nolls answered that the town already pushed back tax deadlines due to COVID which showed compassion about the pandemic.
It came down to a vote essentially holding up the Oct. 30 property tax penalties, and all other 2020 town penalties, which passed by a 4 to 3 margin, councillors Fischer, Pfeiffer and Campbell opposed.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter