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Pitt Meadows resident disputes late penalty on tax bill

Remittance was at City Hall before first business day after the deadline
(The News files)

A Pitt Meadows resident is angry that City Hall is charging her a $255 late fee on her property taxes, even though she had them to the office before the next business day after the deadline.

Midnight of July 2 was the deadline to have paid your property tax bill and avoid late charges in The Natural Place. Jo Donnell-Vella was filing at the last minute for the first time in 32 years, she said. She had urgent, pressing business that made her tardy. She thought she would avoid late charges, because she put her letter through a mail slot at the City Hall just before 7 a.m. on July 3 – a Saturday.

Nobody would be processing payments until the hall re-opened on Monday, at the earliest, she thought.

“I reasoned that my tax remittance would still be submitted in time for the first business day for collection of taxes,” she said.

So Donnell-Vella was unpleasantly surprised to learn that her tax filing was considered late. There was what she called an “unfriendly” notice on the door at City Hall, saying the mailbox was being removed at midnight on July 2. Obviously, her payment was not in it.

She thought City Hall staff were going to some inconvenience to try and catch people paying late – and following on the heels of a year when they extended the deadline into the fall, because of COVID-19.

Asking for leniency, she was first rebuffed by a city accountant.

She then wrote Mayor Bill Dingwall and council, saying the city is “in error and again out of step with provincial guidelines and recommended practices and policies.”

“Not only is this manner of processing tax remittance manifestly inefficient, labour intensive, and a waste of taxpayer dollars, it is indeed very poor business practice and customer relations,” she wrote. “What is going on there? Why would you have staff go in to remove a drop box at midnight?”

She said the city’s own tax rate bylaw, passed in April of this year, is in error. It says the city will charge a five per cent penalty for taxes filed on July 2, which is the day the city advertised as the last day to pay them without penalty.

She said the bylaw should be rewritten, to say penalties will be levied on taxes paid on the first business day after the due date, and thereafter.

“We don’t need staff going in at midnight to scoop up and scupper the mail drop-off box to prevent the people of Pitt Meadows from paying their taxes. This is a draconian, petty, unreasonable, and ridiculous practice,” she added.

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The tax bylaw does indeed say “…the collector will upon the second day of July 2021, add to the unpaid taxes of the current year, for each parcel of land and its improvements on the property tax roll, five per cent (5%) of the amount unpaid on July 2nd…”

Cheryl Harding, city director of financial services, responded to her.

“The city does not charge a 5 per cent penalty on payments received on July 2nd. Rather, soon after the receipt of July 2nd payments, the 5 per cent penalty is calculated and applied to all property taxes that are unpaid at the end of the July 2nd date. Therefore, the city has lawfully charged a 5 per cent penalty and is due an owing,” wrote Harding.

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”Clearing the city hall payment drop box at midnight ensures a fair and consistent approach is provided to all taxpayers in the application of penalties,” Harding added.

City CAO Mark Roberts clarified for The News that the late payment charge was lawful, in the city’s estimation.

“We agree the due date for 2021 property taxes is July 2nd. Subsequent to this date, staff calculate the penalties and interest based on the unpaid property taxes outstanding as of midnight of July 2nd,” he said. “Jo Donell Vella paid her taxes after July 2nd. Since they were paid late, staff correctly applied interest and penalties therefore, she was lawfully charged the penalty/interest.”

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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