Stettler town council upheld a roughly $84 property tax late fee after the property owner asked that the penalty be forgiven. The decision was made after a debate at the July 19 regular council meeting.
Town Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Greg Switenky presented councillors with a letter from a local property owner who paid their taxes late and received a penalty fee as a result; Switenky noted due to privacy legislation the property owner's name was removed from the letter.
“I have been in Quebec since the middle of May and was to arrive back the afternoon of June 30, which would have allowed me to pay invoice due,” stated the anonymous letter.
“At that time I was not aware of actual due date, October, or June 30. I had asked someone in your town office in a phone call which at that time no one could give me a certain date.”
The property owner then went on to explain their June 30 flight from Montreal to Toronto was delayed with no connecting flight to Calgary, “...I was made to stand in line for close to four hours and then told no flights available to come home that day.”
The property owner went on to explain they finally got a flight to Edmonton by 9 p.m. and with various other trials and tribulations the property owner finally arrived home in Stettler at 10 p.m. July 1.
“I was only aware of the June 30 deadline the next day, July 2, when opening my mail...which I even then tried to call the town office in hopes someone might take the call...don’t remember if I left a message or not.
“However I drove down to the town office Monday morning...and asked if I could be given a cancellation of the late penalty charge due to my no fault of mine circumstances (sic).”
The letter writer noted they didn’t want to pay their tax bill ahead of time. The property owner noted their tax bill was $2,800 and the July 1 late penalty of three per cent would add up to about $84. Town staff notified the property owner only town council has the authority to waive penalty fees.
Switenky provided council with a list of the methods the Town of Stettler used to notify property owners of the June 30, 2022 deadline, including newspaper advertisements, a website notice, radio spots, utility bill notices, community screens located around Stettler and numerous social media posts.
The CAO noted the Municipal Government Act (MGA) gives council authority to waive penalties, “equitably,” which means those decisions should apply to everyone.
Referring to the property owner balking at paying their tax bill early, Switenky stated the town offers a payment plan so property owners don’t have to pay the entire bill at once.
Mayor Sean Nolls stated property owners who wait until the deadline day are taking a chance and noted the town also offers an online e-service so a property owner could pay their taxes through that service essentially anywhere they happen to be.
Coun. Wayne Smith stated he had no sympathy for someone who waits until the last day possible especially if they’re out of province as anything could go wrong.
Coun. Kurt Baker sympathized with the property owner and noted the problem amounted to a matter of minutes and the property owner came to the town office at the first possible opportunity.
Coun. Gord Lawlor stated he spoke to the property owner in question and understood how the problem occurred but also noted the many notices town staff put out about the tax deadline and the many electronic options available to pay taxes so Lawlor felt the penalty should be upheld.
Coun. Scott Pfeiffer stated the penalty is small and it has to be equitable for all property owners.
Switenky pointed out about 10 property owners paid their taxes late but within five days, so the current decision should apply to them too.
Coun. Smith stated if councillors forgave the penalty in question those other 10 property owners will complain and rightfully so, adding that if councillors waived the penalty they’re in essence waiving all 11 penalties in total.
Councillors voted 5 to 1 to uphold the penalty, Coun. Baker the lone dissenter.
Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review