SUNDRE — Council approved a partial tax penalty waiver request from a property owner on the east side of town.
The move came by way of motion following a lengthy deliberation during the regular Jan. 10 meeting.
Tim Hus purchased the property on Sundre’s east side located at 950 Main Ave E about six years ago, after the municipality had in 2012 installed main lines for water and wastewater on that part of town as part of the hotel construction project.
Planning ahead to minimize future road disruptions in the area, the council of the day decided to also have service connections extended to the property lines of homes while the excavations for the mains were already open.
Bylaws were subsequently passed in 2013-14 establishing a fee of $15,000 per property that sought to establish the final connection from the residence to the municipality’s lines. Hus eventually hired a contractor to connect the home to the town’s service lines under the impression there would be no additional connection fee, and in January 2020 contested what he at the time described as a “bombshell” of a bill that came in the mail during the holidays.
Several months later that summer, the council of the day ultimately decided the charge was applicable and unanimously voted against waiving the connection fee to the town’s water and sewage service.
More recently, council heard that Hus submitted this past December a written request to waive a $3,014 penalty on the property’s tax account that had been applied to the outstanding amount, which was eventually paid in full on Dec. 21, 2021.
Such penalties are subject of a bylaw, and when requests fall outside normal practices, they become the realm of council to make a decision on whether to waive those fees or make any changes, said Chris Albert, director of corporate service.
“Under the MGA (Municipal Government Act), it is council’s obligation to review these requests,” said Albert. “It is not normal for administration to bring these requests forward. We only do this in special considerations. So, this isn’t a regular thing.”
Such instances are only brought before council for consideration if they reflect a gap in the municipality’s processes, Albert said.
“This is something that council must feel is appropriate for all citizens, not just the individual circumstances (involved),” he said, going on to caution council about the potential of setting a precedent that results in additional requests for leniency.
When an accounts receivable invoice is unpaid, a municipality can transfer the balance owing to the property’s tax roll, he said, adding the amount then becomes subject to tax penalties and is given a 30-day grace period during which no penalties are applied.
“In this particular case because it is a lager amount, a case could be made that a 30-day window may not be sufficient time to rectify the situation,” he said.
Administration recommended that council waive $1,080 of the overall roughly $3,000 penalty, but added council had the authority to choose whether to waive any portion of the penalty, or none at all.
A lengthy discussion ensued, and while there was a consensus that a portion of the penalty should be waived to account for the period of time previously spent considering the matter, council could not immediately agree as to how much.
First, a motion by Coun. Owen Petersen to fully waive the $3,014 penalty was defeated five votes against two, with himself and Coun. Jaime Marr in favour.
“This was a big issue and it was messy. It’s not an ideal situation,” Petersen said in explanation of his position.
“We have our money — we’ve got the 15 grand. Everything’s done,” the councillor argued, adding an olive branch should be extended and that as any future requests would be considered individually on a case-by-case basis, no precedent would be set.
Coun. Paul Isaac, who sat on the former council, said administration’s recommendation to agree to a discounted penalty is admirable, adding Hus was offered ample time to settle up after the 2020 decision that he pay the connection fee.
Marr inquired what the odds are of a similar situation reoccurring on Sundre’s east side.
Linda Nelson, chief administrative officer, said that in her opinion, instead of a bylaw the municipality should have had in place a deferred services agreement requiring a connection fee be paid prior to being issued a permit, which she believes would have avoided the whole situation. But she didn’t comment on the possibility of a similar situation resurfacing in the future.
Mayor Richard Warnock, who served as a councillor during the last term, said Hus was well aware of the decision to uphold the hookup fee and that he was responsible to pay in full. So while the mayor supported administration’s recommendation to waive a portion of the tax penalty, he could not support forgiving the entire balance.
Another motion by Coun. Todd Dalke to waive $1,908 generated more discussion but was ultimately also defeated four votes against three, with himself, Marr and Petersen in favour.
Coun. Chris Vardas argued any person who is considering the purchase of a property must do their due diligence, and felt administration’s recommendation was already “quite reasonable.”
Finally, Marr moved that council waive no more than $1,008 of the assessed penalties as per administration’s recommendation.
Without any further discussion, council proceeded to carry the motion with five votes in favour and two opposed — Petersen and Dalke.