An Airdrie family is frustrated by City Council's decision at the August 21 meeting to deny a waiver on late fees applied to their deceased mother's property taxes.
Sisters Tracy and Jodi Osborne say the decision, stemming from a 4-2 vote by council, demonstrates a lack of compassion.
Tracy Osborne explained that their mother Merle Osborne passed away suddenly on June 29, the day before property taxes were due, after being hospitalized. Merle had been quite sick, but the passing still came quickly. According to Osborne, the sisters had cheques prepared for Merle's three properties, but due to the sudden passing, the cheques went unsigned and the taxes weren't paid on time. Merle's estate was frozen and it was some time until the sisters could get access and pay the taxes. In the meantime, a 5 per cent penalty of $494 was incurred. Osborne said the tax bill was paid two weeks after Merle's passing.
After discussions with Mayor Peter Brown, the sisters decided to go to Council to get the late penalty waived. Osborne said in their discussion, Mayor Brown said he didn't see a problem getting the late fee waived. Tracy drafted and sent a letter to City Council making the request.
"We asked the City of Airdrie to waive the late fees, because how can you charge late fees to a person that passed away the day before taxes were due?"
When the issue came up at the August 21 Council meeting, there was some confusion about whether City Council could legitimately waive the late fee. The City's current tax bylaw doesn't give Council the ability to waive penalties, but under the Province's Municipal Government Act, the City did have the authority to grant the waiver. Historically, the City of Airdrie has not granted waivers on late fees.
Councillor Allan Hunter expressed some worry that granting the waiver would set a precedent. "If we amend bylaws on a case by case basis, we may be going down a slope that may be a little bit slipperier than we want to slide down."
Councillor Candice Kolson agreed with Hunter, "As far as fairness goes, we can't review this on a case by case basis. We have to make this fair across the board for all residents."
Councillor Ron Chapman made a motion that Council grant the waiver for the $494 late fee on a one-off basis, saying the family had already suffered enough through the passing of their mother. Chapman and Mayor Brown supported that motion, but it was defeated by Councillors Hunter, Kolson, Fred Burley and Darrell Belyk. Councillor Kelly Hegg was not in attendance at the meeting.
Councillor Kolson then made a motion that City staff respond to the family, explaining the reason for denying the waiver and including a compassionate response. That motion passed on a 4-2 vote, with Mayor Brown and Councillor Chapman opposed.
Osborne said she and her family were disappointed and angered by the discussion, decision, and ensuing letter.
"The bottom line is that it's not about the late fees. It's not about the money. What matters to us is the lack of empathy and compassion shown in this scenario by Council."
The letter sent by the City offered only one line of condolence and a brief explanation of Council's decision, reading "after earnest discussion, Council determined that they were unable to provide the requested waiver for several reasons, including the potential of setting a precedent."
Osborne was also angered by statements by Councillor Hunter regarding her mother's financial situation and past history of tax payment.
Osborne said she did talk with Mayor Brown on the phone prior to receiving the letter. In the time since the decision, some Councillors have reached out to the family online, but Osborne and her sister have not been satisfied with the response.
The family will now advocate to see the bylaw amended so that in the future, other families won't go through what they've experienced.
"We are firmly going to press ahead that they need to amend this bylaw for every other family that goes through this, that passes away during tax time, because it's just not acceptable to have to pay late fees on a deceased person's property."
A spokesperson for the City responded via email to a request for a comment, saying that City administration doesn't have the authority to waive penalties and the decision on the case rests with Council.
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