Councillor adamant municipality not collecting taxes from hundreds of properties

ARICHAT: One municipal councillor is still claiming that taxes are not being collected on hundreds of properties around Richmond County.

During the Dec. 20 regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council, District 2 Councillor Michael Diggdon told council there are properties of “large value,” which include houses, “that are not being taxed, or where no taxes are being paid on the property.”

According to the Municipal Government Act, Diggdon said every piece of land is supposed to be taxed.

“I think one of the things we really have to push in 2022, moving forward is, I don’t know if it’s our CAO to have our taxation officer go section for section, so many per day. You’re not going to get them all done in a week, in a month, or probably a year, but honestly in all fairness to residents who pay taxes in the County of Richmond, it only seems fair that we look at those properties and we either figure out who owns them, put them up for sale, or have whatever is required,” he said. “We have many acres of property, some off lakes, some off rivers, some off (the ocean), some with houses, some that are vacant, some that are non-vacant, and not paying taxes.”

Last May, Warden Amanda Mombourquette said it was brought to council’s attention during budget deliberations that there were properties on the tax roll that did not have account numbers assigned.

At the time, Diggdon told council the municipality “missed the boat on hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past 20 to 30 years.”

Diggdon said it could be costly, but could prove worthwhile since eight out of 10 properties he, the CAO, and staff randomly looked at required new (Property Identification numbers) PIDs.

Council approved a motion last spring to instruct staff to conduct an assessment using information from other municipalities.

Lloyd MacLeod, with Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC), appeared before Richmond Municipal Council’s committee of the whole session on Oct. 12 to explain that PVSC does not create PIDs, and it is the provincial Land Registry that creates accounts.

MacLeod said the PVSC undertook a two month pilot project, under the guidance of mapper and Richmond County native Joyce Forgeron, last June.

Of the properties identified by Forgeron, 562 were provincially owned and already assessed without PIDs, MacLeod said. Because they were migrated by the province “in one batch,” he explained that they may not all have separate PIDs.

However, MacLeod said the pilot project did find 280 accounts requiring new PIDs. Of those, he said 90 properties were approved for new numbers, and the other 198 were awaiting approval.

The total value of those 18 properties is around $85,000 or $4,500 per account, MacLeod estimated.

To put the remaining properties up for tax sale, MacLeod said the municipality would have to pay for a title search, which could be expensive and lengthy, while the lots are small and of little value.

Noting that he personally found “several hundred” properties from which no taxes were being collected, Diggdon pointed to property owners who had not paid taxes, nor charged a tax bill.

During the December meeting, the warden suggested there might be a more detailed report from the PVSC.

Diggdon agreed, and noted that the PVSC identified a few hundred properties with missing information.

“Those 400 unaccounted for have to fall in some category. As councillors, we can’t allow the next door neighbours of properties to not be paying taxes on their piece of land,” he noted. “There was approximately 458 that were missing, that hadn’t even hit the radar. We have over 500 pieces of land in the County of Richmond that are unaccounted for and untaxed, that’s unrealistic. We paid PVSC to do a certain job, if this isn’t their job, then we have to figure whose it is.”

Diggdon said the municipality’s revenue manager is responsible to provide PVSC with a list of properties not paying taxes, and in some cases, PIDs, account numbers, and assessment numbers are missing. With this information, he said PVSC can then let the municipality know which properties are not being charged taxes.

“I can tell you honestly deputy warden, a 100 acre piece of property in your area, as well as a 23 acre piece of property in your area with a house on it, that is being lived in right now, there are no taxes being paid on it,” he said.

The CAO said tax bills are issued even for properties that aren’t assessed. Since title searches cost between $400 and $700, he said trying to straighten out properties could be a “dear price.”

“In a lot of cases when the revenue manager investigates a property maybe from a member of the public inquiring, then if we get the right information, we can forward it off to PVSC. We never, ever make that determination as municipal staff; that’s not our responsibility,” he said. “If there are other things that we need to do with respect to determining title, then we can forward that off to the lawyer. The revenue manager now, and myself in the past, did not have the expertise to do paralegal work…”

The CAO said this is a common problem for all rural municipalities.

“Sometimes the complications outweigh the benefits, and that may very well be the case in a lot of those properties,” Marchand noted.

Diggdon added that he is willing to continue logging properties without without numbers and passing it along to staff.

“I can continue to provide property or PID numbers without assessment. However, I didn’t feel it was my job as a councillor to start. Usually that’s when I get told that that’s not my job,” he added. “But I believe it’s the job of the municipality or somebody who works there.”

Council approved a motion to have staff ask the PVSC for a more detailed report, as well as a colour-coded map of the properties in question.