A taxing situation: Holyrood man doesn’t like council’s change in water and sewer levy policy

By Chris Lewis   |   Vol. 31 No. 52 (March 13 2019)

After seeing some unexpected costs associated with his properties, one Holyrood resident is seeking some clarification about his municipal taxes.

Winston Vivian is a proud resident of the town. Before delving into his issues with council, he made sure to note some of his favourite things about living there – namely, the scenery and sense of community he has found.

However, it has not been completely perfect for Vivian, especially since some changes came into effect following the finalization of the 2019 budget for the Town of Holyrood.

“They say, right at the beginning, that there were to be no tax increases for the Town of Holyrood,” Vivian says, sitting at his dining room table and pointing at a highlighted section of the budget. “But, they seem to have contradicted themselves, because that’s exactly what happened to me.”

Vivian says he owns a total of three pieces of land within Holyrood. One features a home, whereas the other two are vacant pieces of property. However, despite only paying water and sewer taxes on one of them for a number of years, Vivian now finds himself paying that tax three times over – once each for every property he owns. Originally, that tax was costing the resident $492. Following this change in policy, Vivian is paying a total of $1,476 in water and sewer costs. He says this is a serious cut in his fixed income as a retiree.

Vivian says he sent a letter to the town office expressing his concern back in January but as of Friday, March 8, had received no response.

In the letter, he references a tweet made by the Town’s Twitter account stating that there would be no tax increases in the 2019 budget. He feels as though this is incorrect, arguing that he does in fact have an increase in taxes.

“I also noted that Section 111 of the Municipalities Act gives the Town the authority to exempt the payment of tax,” he said.
However, Mayor Gary Goobie insists otherwise.

Although he could not speak on such matters on an individual level, Goobie explained the decision to tax residents with multiple properties, similar to Vivian’s situation, was simply the Town following the regulations set out by Municipalities Act.

“We’re required, under the Municipalities Act, to tax property which water and sewer runs through,” Goobie explained. “In the past, this is something the Town had opted out of doing. This year, the Town decided that it was time now for us to follow the Act, and we started taxing properties for water and sewer in areas where they have it. So, that’s what we’re doing now.”

Goobie says the Town is dealing with the changes on an individual basis, noting that if a resident feels there is an issue with their taxation, then the Town will attempt to iron out any inconsistencies as time goes on, given that the regulation is still a new endeavour for the town.

“There’s a whole gambit of reasons why they could be exempt from paying the water and sewer tax, but if you’ve got what would be considered an approved building lot – a vacant lot with water and sewer running in front of it – then the Town is subject to charge water and sewer tax, and that’s in accordance with the Municipalities Act,” Goobie says.

After doing some of his own digging into the situation, Vivian says he discovered tat the Town of Conception Bay South does not impose water and sewer taxes in this way, and only charges the tax if a house has been built on the property. He contends the regulations seem to be followed, or not followed, depending on which community he reached out to.

Goobie also noted that such taxes can, in the long run, serve as a benefit to residents who may be in similar situations due to the increase in property value that would come hand in hand with the taxation.

“While the homeowner may pay the water and sewer tax, if it’s an approved building lot, that could really increase the value of that property. That can be a tremendous benefit to the property owner in the event that they wish to eventually sell that property,” Goobie says. “The value is much higher when they can sell it as a serviced lot… It’s not that we’re increasing taxes – some people may make the suggestion that the Town is increasing taxes, but no. What we’re doing is subjecting a tax that could have been imposed years ago,” Goobie adds. “We didn’t increase the mil rate. The assessment is not done through the Town, and we have no control over people’s assessed value of their homes. What we do control is the mil rate, and in this year’s budget, we did not touch the mil rate. So, in our opinion, we’re not increasing taxes.”

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