By Cole Parkinson
While the Municipal District of Taber had planned to move their tax collection date up to July this year, council has elected to discuss the issue further before making the change.
After council had carried first reading of the Tax Penalty Bylaw at their Feb. 23 meeting, it was back in front of councillors during their March 23 meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, during the public engagement process part of the agenda, a pair of residents expressed concern over moving the date to July.
While council has expressed the challenges of having a late in the year tax collection date, there still has been some concerns raised about bringing the date to the middle of the year.
In the bylaw, the new penalty dates would be Aug. 1 (five per cent), Oct. 1 (three per cent), Dec. 1 (three per cent) and Feb. 1 (12 per cent).
“I’ve always expressed being in favour of moving the tax collection date, as I felt it gave the municipality a better idea of how our operations were moving forward,” stated Coun. Tamara Miyanaga. “As noted this morning, we wouldn’t move it any further back than the dates proposed based on our assessment and taxation that requires the assessment notice, so we can figure out our budget and move forward. I think it’s important to note we’re always operating on a year behind in collection and what this would do is allow a benefit for council and administration to be aware of where we are sitting at. If we did need to make some drastic adjustments, we could do so sooner than Nov. 15 to manage our operations.”
With concerns raised earlier in the day, some councillors felt it would be best to get the message of moving the date up for a longer period of time.
“I’m not sure if we should do some more consultation or what we do moving forward to get people to know what’s going,” said Coun. Murray Reynolds.
While moving the date would certainly bring some relief for councillors and administration, there was still trepidation of enacting the bylaw if people were still unaware. Even with discussions of moving the date earlier in the year lasting for several years, councillors realize the past year has disrupted people’s lives and the change in tax dates was probably not top of mind.
“There’s certainly lots of pros for doing it and that’s making administration’s and council’s lives a little easier when it comes to the budgeting process, as far as knowing what money we have to work with. Rather than trying to budget and finding out later how much money we have to work with,” said Reeve Merrill Harris. “A con of moving this and doing it right now is we probably haven’t done a good enough job in explaining the change was going to take place this year. We’re getting late into the season already where assessment and tax notices would have to go out here pretty quick and the due date is in the next three or four months. Some it will be no big deal — but for others, it would be a big change.”
Others were opposed to it because they saw it as a punishment for the taxpayers who already pay on time — while those who don’t pay will continue to do so, no matter the date change.
“I’m opposed to it — mainly because it’s irresponsible ratepayers that are causing us to even consider this. I think the problem is still there — we still have irresponsible ratepayers and the responsible ones are having to pay earlier because of it,” explained Coun. John Turcato.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m opposed to it. The rationale for change is because we don’t have an avenue to collect these taxes and that’s why we’re in this position. That’s no fault of our responsible ratepayers and it’s no fault of ours. We need to lobby harder, and we have been, to get this fixed — so this doesn’t continue to be a problem. If you levy taxes, you should have an avenue to collect. With one class, there is no avenue to collect the taxes levied and because of that we need to put extra penalties on the responsible ratepayers,” continued Turcato.
As other southern Alberta municipalities have tax collection dates earlier in the year, it was pointed out it was just another way to align themselves.
“I do feel like we’ve been discussing this for quite some time and it’s a reality. Not just following what our neighbours are doing, but I think a change would be good to be better able to plan,” added Deputy Reeve Jen Crowson. “I do wonder if we missed the mark on our messaging. I look at and going back to what John said, the responsible ones are still being responsible, so it is tough to change that date. But I do feel we need to change the date, but maybe it’s not this year. The reason I say that is more so because of messaging. One thing, typically our collection date is seven-and-a-half months away. As it stands, if the bylaw passes, our collection date goes to four months away, roughly. Typically our assessment notice goes separate from our tax notice, so in the event it is passed, both will have to go out quickly.”
“I think a change needs to happen solely on the budgeting purposes, thus more time and gives us a better understanding where we stand rather than too late in the year and then we really need to make adjustments,” said Coun. Leavitt Howg.
Council asked when tax assessments and notices would be sent out.
“As it stands now, our assessment notices should be ready to send out by the end of the month. Tax notices couldn’t be sent out until such a time council passes its property taxes bylaw. Typically, you look at that towards the end of April, beginning of May, traditionally. So those wouldn’t be able to go out until third and final reading,” replied CAO Arlos Crofts.
Another question was around waiving penalty fees for this year if the bylaw passed, as a showing of good faith.
“I know this won’t fix the problem, that’s definitely not the case, but at least it will give us a tool we can plan for a problem. We can plan ahead on what course of action we may have to take depending on what the outcome is on tax collection day if we move it ahead,” added Howg.
While many expressed a desire to have further discussions around the bylaw, there was a thought delaying another year would leave them in a similar situation next year.
“If we delay it another year, are we helping anyone or are we in the same position? I want to see if there is a solution to move the date, not have people penalized until Nov. 15, so the Band-Aid is wrapped off, for a lack of a better term,” added Miyanaga. “When I read the bylaw, the penalties are compounding, so that is the piece I can’t really understand what to do if it’s a complete change of penalties for this year. Does that then require another bylaw?”
Administration added penalty dates can’t be changed by motion, but council can waive fees if they want.
“A resolution could be crafted that would suggest waiving the penalties up until the first penalty date after Nov. 15, if that’s the date chosen by council,” said Crofts.
“You can’t change the penalty date by motion, but what you can do is waive a penalty that would be applied or is applied on these dates that are specified in the bylaw,” added Bryan Badura, director of Corporate Services. “If there is a want to change and put a penalty on, let’s say Oct. 15 or a different day than what is specified in the bylaw, we would need to change the wording in the bylaw to indicate a penalty would be applied on that date.”
A motion was made for third reading of the bylaw — which was defeated 4-2 with Howg and Miyanaga voting in favour. A second motion to refer discussions to a future Committee of the Whole meeting was carried 4-2 with Miyanaga and Turcato opposed.
Coun. Brian Brewin was absent from the meeting.