Penticton votes to compensate 'vulnerable' senior after home auctioned for unpaid taxes
Mayor introduced motion to repay senior but raised issues with ombudsperson report, public reaction
The City of Penticton voted Tuesday to compensate a vulnerable senior $140,922 after her home was auctioned off to pay a $10,000 property tax debt.
The city's decision comes after a report from B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke found the city didn't communicate clearly with the senior, referred to as Ms. Wilson, before selling her home for $150,000 in 2017.
At the time, the home was assessed at $420,000. Less than two years later, another owner sold the house for $498,000.
The motion to provide compensation passed five to one at a special meeting, Mayor John Vassilaki said Tuesday.
Vassilaki said he put forward the motion on compassionate grounds.
"I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hadn't done it," Vassilaki said. "She's at the age where she requires as much funding as she can get in order to support her for the rest of her life."
But Vassilaki also was emphatic that the present council was not involved with the auctioning of the home back in 2017.
In a statement, Vassilaki said there was "another side to the story." He wouldn't elaborate during a phone interview, citing privacy issues, but suggested the ombudsperson didn't listen to the city.
"There's hundreds and hundreds of pages of information that we gave the ombudsperson, and he didn't include it in the report that he made public. And we have an issue with that. I have an issue with that," Vassilaki said.
Woman once lived in house with mother
"And to release the report just before Christmas? You know, was it reasonable? To me, it wasn't. So, those are the issues that I had with the report."
Chalke's report noted his office "carefully considered the City's letter and attachment in finalizing this report. We have not published the attachment here, because it contained personal details about Ms. Wilson that we did not want to disclose publicly, and the letter sufficiently set out the City's response to our report."
Wilson, whose name was changed for the report, once lived in the house with her mother. After her mother died in 2013, Wilson stayed in the home and became responsible for paying the property taxes.
She didn't pay in 2015 or 2016. The report did not provide specifics to protect confidentiality, but said she did not make the payments because she was "a vulnerable member of the community in a disadvantaged position" who was "unable to take steps on her own" to manage those bills.
Vassilaki also expressed frustration with how the public reacted to the story.
"Whether it was from the public, from the City of Penticton or from the province or right across Canada because I had hundreds of emails right across the country," he said.
"It was awful. I've never been treated like that in the three, three-and-a-quarter years that I've been here as mayor. I've never been treated like that. Me or city council. Or staff, I mean, our staff took it just as hard as we did. It wasn't right. But you know, public opinion is what it is."
Vassilaki said the compensation would not impact the city's budget and the senior would receive the money as soon as possible.
With files from Rhianna Schmunk