HIllier fires salvo at few big shots who won’t pay their water leases

By Craig Westcott/December 30, 2022

CBS councillor-at-large Rex Hillier has a lot of sympathy for people struggling financially and is quick to encourage anyone having problems paying their taxes to take advantage of the Town’s various arrangements it has on offer to make things easier.

But he draws the line at richer folk who can afford to pay their way but won’t.

Hillier gave vent to his feelings last week after the 2023 budget was approved and finance committee chairperson, Deputy Mayor Andrea Gosse, presented a number of motions to clear the Town’s books of some old accounts.

The first batch of tax bills that Gosse asked council to write off consisted of 12 longstanding business accounts, including one from a former dance company for over $13,600, that came to a total of $29,454.

“This is a long list of inactive businesses that have been on the books for quite a while and are inactive and we’re just cleaning up the books by the end of the year,” said Gosse.

The next block of 26 write-offs appeared to be a mix of business and residential accounts totalling some $171,435. The biggest amount owing belongs to a tax account identified as ESTAR009, which owes $52,965.

“This is a long list of uncollectable tax accounts that are quite old and we’re clearing them out,” Gosse said.

But it was the last batch of delinquent accounts, for water lot leases, that brought Hillier into the discussion.

“This is part of our aggressive collections this year,” said Gosse. “We have some water lot leases that remain unpaid and after a long time trying to collect, we’ve decided to initiate third party collection.”

Gosse didn’t say how much is owed in arrears on the water lot leases, or how many people haven’t paid.

“Your Worship this came out of a planning committee (discussion) last week and it has been tormenting me all week,” said Hiller. “We’re trying to be nice. The motion says that we are passing these files over to a third party. Really what we’re doing is we’re passing it on to a collection agency. And it’s not unusual for some people every year to struggle with paying taxes here in the town, and I know our staff have been very innovative over time working with people trying to bring their files into compliance, trying to get them to pay a little bit whenever they can. And for many people, it’s worked well…  But Your Worship, this one is different, this is not taxes that we’re talking about here. This motion deals with lease payments on water lots.”

Hillier allowed most people don’t even know what a water lot is. So, he offered an explanation, using Long Pond as the example as it has more water lots than any other part of CBS.

“Long Pond is one of the most beautiful areas among a lot of beautiful areas that we have here in town,” Hillier said. “The scenery around the pond (is outstanding) there are some beautiful properties, big properties, beautiful homes, big homes, wharves on the pond, big boats at the wharves, it’s an area that we promote sometimes when we’re marketing our town and it’s something to be proud of. And that’s where water lots come in. The Town has jurisdiction over the inner waters of the inner pond at Long Pond, so if people want to build a wharf, we lease them the land to build a wharf on. They need area around their wharf for easy access for their boats and so on, and these are water lots. We’ve got 31 water lots around Long Pond. That’s about $85,000 worth of revenue to the Town and that is used for various things tied to that area.”

Hillier said it’s been a successful policy thanks to the cooperation between staff and most of the water lot holders.

“But like everywhere, there are always those who don’t feel the rules apply to them,” Hillier added, “and refuse to pay for their leases. We’ve got several files that our staff are tired of chasing – people who refuse to pay their leases. As a result, we’re passing that on to a third-party collection (agency). But in reality, what we’ve got are big lots, big houses, big wharves, big boats belonging to people who are refusing to pay their lease fees. And Your Worship, that’s ridiculous.”

Mayor Darrin Bent seemed to agree.

“I suspect that these people would feel ill-done if they lost their water lot leases, if that were possible,” said the mayor. “It’s not unreasonable to ask for payment and to go through the route (of collecting it). It’s unfortunate that we’re forced as a council to go this route, because we don’t receive as much money when we go this route, if we receive any.”

Hillier said the Town tries to treat everyone who happens to be in arrears equally.

“And as I said, our staff have worked so hard with some of our people to bring their taxes inline,” Hillier added. “But here we’ve got people who can certainly afford it. They haven’t come looking for help. We can’t get them to pay the bills. So, we have to send it off to a collection agency. It’s ridiculous.”

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