Casual Legal: Taxes start at home

By Emma Banfield 
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

A recent decision of the Court of King’s Bench confirmed a councillor who was in arrears on his property taxes was disqualified from his seat on council pursuant to s. 175 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

Prior to being elected, the councillor owned property with an extended history of problems related to development. One issue resulted in an Order to Remedy requiring the completion of the exterior of a building on the property. Before becoming a councillor, he sought a review of the Order and received an extension. However, the work was not completed as required and the CAO of the municipality instructed commencement of enforcement proceedings.

As a result, legal enforcement costs and other legal costs were added to the property tax roll. Before being elected, the future councillor attended a council meeting and asked for the legal costs to be removed, but the question was deferred to a future meeting.

The councillor then put his name forward for election and was elected. At the time, he was in arrears for the legal enforcement costs added to the tax roll. After he was elected, council considered and denied the councillor’s request to have the legal costs removed from his property tax roll.

The municipality later notified the councillor that he had an outstanding property tax balance and the CAO notified the councillor his eligibility as a councillor would be discussed at a forthcoming council meeting. When the matter was raised at the meeting, the councillor asked for additional information and for consideration to be deferred to a later meeting. At the subsequent meeting, the councillor was declared disqualified. This would ordinarily require the councillor resigning immediately but, in this case, the councillor refused to resign. The councillor maintained he had paid his property taxes and disputed the legal costs being added to the tax roll.

The Court found the version of the MGA in force at the time specifically permitted a council to add the expenses and costs of enforcing orders to the property tax roll. These constituted an amount owing to the municipality under s. 549 of the MGA. The Court also found the municipality’s bylaws specifically authorized the application of penalties to the tax roll. Therefore, the legal enforcement costs had been properly added to the tax roll according to the MGA and the applicable bylaws.

The Court then turned to the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA) which provides a person is ineligible for nomination as a candidate in any election under the LAEA if, on the day of nomination, the person is in debt to the municipality for taxes in excess of $50 (excluding current taxes and other inapplicable circumstances). As a result, the Court determined the councillor was disqualified and required to resign. Because he refused to do so, the Court issued a declaration he was disqualified from council, and further, he was ineligible to run in any by-election to fill the vacant seat created by the Court’s declaration.

This case is a reminder to all elected officials to keep your own houses in order! It is important for councillors and all civic leaders to lead by example. There is no better place to start than by making sure your property taxes are paid.

To access the Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.