Taxes more than double in Sask. rural municipality

Residents in the RM of McKillop are facing tax increases after a year of increased spending by council.

RM of McKillop residents see average increase of 130 per cent

The Kovach's say they put their home on Last Mountain Lake up for sale before the tax hike because of the already high property taxes. (Tyler Piblubny/CBC News)

Sharon and John Kovach wanted to grow old together in their lakefront home in the RM of McKillop. Now a sudden tax hike due to increased spending by the council has changed their plans.

"We just can't afford it anymore," said Sharon Kovach.

She said they paid $500 a year in property taxes when they bought the house 15 years ago.

"Last year we paid just under $4,100, the year before that we paid $3,900 and this year its $7,581," she said.

They are not alone. All residents in the RM of McKillop are facing tax increases after a year of "significant expenditures" from the council.

I feel hurt, I feel angry, I feel that I've let down the rate payers of this RM.- Howard Arndt, Reeve of the RM of McKillop

"The RM has found that they are in financial difficulty and they need to raise some revenue very quickly to pay back last year's deficit and the expenses they've occurred over the past year," said RM of McKillop resident and former councillor Gary Dixon.

"So, they've chose to raise people's taxes."

Average increase of 130 per cent

Dixon claims rate payers who live on Last Mountain Lake are being targeted compared to the agricultural community, whose taxes are set to rise much less than residential properties.

According to documents obtained by CBC News, the mill rates were increased 85 per cent for residential properties and only five per cent for agricultural properties. All residences are now on the hook for a new $850 base tax.

​"There's obviously been some mismanagement in the RM somewhere...but why are the lakeshore residents getting a heavy burden and the agricultural producers getting the light burden?" Dixon said.

Gary Dixon, a RM of McKillop resident and former councillor, said he feels residences who live on the lake are being targeted compared to farmers. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC News)

For a residential home that is valued at $350,000, last year the property tax would have been around $1,850. With the new rates, that same home's property tax will be around $4,300, roughly a 130 per cent increase. Dixon said that is about the average increase.

"A lot of people are saying they can't afford their taxes," said Dixon, pointing out many people who live in the RM are retired and live on fixed income.

He said many people are having to make big changes in their lives, like one of his neighbours who fears he can no longer help with his grandchild's university savings. Others say they have to sell their homes, but with a property tax that high, Dixon said "they can kiss that sale goodbye."

The Kovachs, who have owned their home for 15 years, said they planned to move before they found out about the tax increase because the rates were already so high.

'I feel that I've let down the rate payers of this RM'

The Reeve of the RM Howard Arndt said the tax increase is "extremely disturbing." He said he feels "mislead" by the state of their finances.

He said that this February, before a public meeting, he checked on the RM's finances and was told they were on track.

"So everything went along and we made these expenditures," he said.

"Then we start through the budget process about two weeks ago, and all of a sudden find we have this huge problem."

Arndt said he found out was the RM was in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from the year before.

"We overspent $400,000 last year and we weren't told, we weren't even warned about that as the year progressed," he said.

"So if we were told about it there were some purchases we could have avoided."

Some of those purchases include more than $200,000 in gravel, $200,000 in legal bills, $30,000 for bylaw enforcement and $200,000 in development.

"I can't even describe how I feel right now," Arndt said about the spending and tax increase.

"I feel hurt, I feel angry, I feel that I've let down the rate payers of this RM."

'Pay for someone else's mistake'

Sharon and her husband John wanted to grow old together in the Last Mountain Lake home, but the taxes have grown too much for them to stay. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC News)

Kovach said its "pretty obvious" the RM is not being run the way it should and wants to see someone held accountable.

"They didn't have a vote from tax payers about these decisions, it was just spending and bang this is what you're paying," she said.

"I just don't think that us as tax payers who have a limited income should be expected to pay for someone else's mistake ... [The RM] is still a political entity that's supposed take care of us, not us take care of them for over spending."​