Q&A

Calgary looks to waive late-tax penalties on compassionate grounds

Coun. Evan Woolley was inspired by a local homeowner who missed her 58th property tax bill deadline, after paying them for 57 straight years, to ask the City of Calgary to amend its property tax deadlines to allow forgiving people who miss deadlines due to critical illness or a death in the family.

Coun. Evan Woolley's push inspired by homeowner who missed deadline due to dementia

Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley is proposing Calgary change the rule charging a seven-per cent penalty on people who miss the property tax payment deadline to nothing if they are dealing with critical illness or a death in the family. (CBC)

Dorothy Motherwell paid her property taxes on time 57 years in a row. The 58th time, in 2016, she missed the deadline.

That was in all likelihood directly related to the fact that Motherwell had dementia. But the way Calgary's tax laws are written, the city had no choice but to assess a seven-per-cent late penalty to her bill.

That's a situation Coun. Evan Woolley hopes to fix. He spoke to The Eyeopener about it Monday.

Q: What inspired this?

A: Dorothy Motherwell … built her first house in Wildwood in 1958.  A particular point for Bill, her son, was that she was the daughter of a Scottish banker — so she always took huge pride in paying her taxes.

When she missed the deadline on one — she has since passed away — it really consumed her.

This late payment kind of consumed her, and kind of jolted my heart and became a point of principle for Bill, and we worked on this proposal together.

Q: So this is compassionate tax relief?

A: It's not even tax relief. Often times, what happens, is for whatever reason — life happens, illness happens in families — and they aren't able to pay taxes on time.

This isn't even not to pay taxes — it's just to pay that seven-per cent penalty. That's a significant amount for many Calgarians. This is a very simple thing, that I was amazed we didn't have the opportunity to waive — but I hope we will in a couple of weeks there.

Q: What are the barriers?

A: Not just anybody can do it — [it's restricted to people who have] critical illness to a member of your immediate family or death within a time frame of that tax.

Basically your taxes are due in June, so if something happens in that couple of months leading up to June, with your family or a loved one, and you just missed that property tax deadline, we have the ability within a year after that to waive that penalty fee.

It's the penalty [we'd forgive], and not the tax.

With Dorothy Motherwell here, this was the perfect storm of things happened. She was suffering from Alzheimers. Her son couldn't get power of attorney, so he couldn't really figure out what was going on with her financial situation.

This is a really simple thing that has a huge impact on individuals and families.

Q: How much would it cost?

A: Either nothing or potentially up to — they were estimating potentially $25,000 a year in administrative fees. When we originally looked at this, we looked at it in a very bureaucratic way. But the form and the process now is going to be unbelievably simple — and one that won't cost us much of anything.

Q: What about postponing property tax payments for other reasons, like losing your job?

A: That was something they had considered to broadly explore but my notice of motion was specific and was really [based] around the specifics of Dorothy Motherwell's case — which was critical illness, or death in the family.

I had hunted around what some other cities had done — even Canada Revenue [Agency] has a similar thing.

Other cities don't have a lot to support this process, but our federal and provincial governments in their tax agencies do. And it's something that made sense here.

But you're right, there's a whole range of life issues that can come up that might be worthwhile exploring — but for intents and purposes here, we didn't.


With files from The Eyeopener

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca