COVID-19 impacting municipal tax sales

·3 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has left municipal councils in Queens and Lunenburg counties rethinking this year’s tax sales.

The majority have either deferred them or cancelled them entirely for 2021, while others, such as the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg (MODL), was in the throes of deciding how to proceed last week.

Municipalities auction off properties where taxes have been owing for several years as a means of recouping some of the outstanding payments.

Typically, the municipalities hold the auctions within the first three months of a year, prior to their fiscal year-end. But as the pandemic continues to be a concern, this year will be different.

The Region of Queens Municipality (RQM) has decided against having a tax sale for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which ends March 31, “due to the global health pandemic” according to a post on its web page.

“I was not part of the decision. But I believe people may be feeling the repercussions of COVID-19 and perhaps people were unable to work,” explained RQM Mayor Darlene Norman.

However, a tax sale has been scheduled for April 7. Heather Cook, RQM’s communications coordinator, reported that staff are preparing 60-day notices for those whose properties are scheduled for the sale.

Fifty-seven properties are on RQM’s April 7 tax sale list. The value of outstanding taxes and charges is estimated at more than $170,000. All properties listed on this tax sale are in arrears of four years or more.

Property owners still have time to pay off their taxes before their property is put up for sale, however.

RQM normally has three tax sales per year. The dates for the next two have not been set.

The Municipality of Chester (MOC) had also decided not to proceed with a tax sale during their 2020-21 fiscal year, but it has yet to commit to a timeline for an upcoming sale.

According to Jennifer Webber, communications officer for MOC, council members have only discussed how they might proceed and have asked staff to investigate online bidding as a possible option.

The number of eligible properties to go on the list was not available.

In MODL, currently, there are 37 properties that would be included in a tax sale this fiscal year, including 16 residential properties, 17 resource properties, one commercial and three classified as forestry.

Owners of 24 of the 37 properties appear not to be residents of MODL, according to a report to council on January 12 by Elana Wentzell, MODL’s director of finance.

The municipality was looking to collect $123,531 in outstanding taxes.

At the meeting, staff recommended that council agree to sell the properties through a tender process.

However, councillors were uncertain how best to proceed. They discussed a variety of approaches including deferring the tax sale to later in the year, and taking out residential properties from the equation this year and deferring their sale until next year.

Some councillors wondered about the optics of having the tax sale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I realize that this time of year, and with everything going on, can be hard,” said Councillor Chasidy Veinotte. “I would like to be able to avoid reading on Facebook or seeing a headline in the local paper, ‘Municipal council proceeds with tax sale amid COVID-19 pandemic.”

Councillor Kacy DeLong agreed. “It does seem particularly heartless in this moment of time. Where are people going to go?” she asked.

In the end, it was agreed the council should seek the advice of the municipality’s solicitor.

Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin