By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
After hosting a public hearing, Picture Butte town council decided to table further reading of the proposed Maple Estates bylaw pending more information.
The purpose of the proposed bylaw 874-18 — the Maple Estates bylaw — was to allow the town to identify the owner of Maple Estates Mobile Home Park manufactured home community as the assessed person for designated manufactured homes.
First reading had been performed during council’s Sept. 24 meeting.
According to accompanying documents, the Municipal Government Act (MGA) allows for a municipality to pass a bylaw requiring the owner of a manufactured home community to be the assessed person for designated manufactured homes in a manufactured home community.
According to administration, the bylaw became necessary due to issues the town has been having in collecting taxes on manufactured homes in the park dating back years.
“Town administration has not received the information that we require to effectively do our jobs. That lack of information results in negative effects on the town in two ways,” said Patrick Lyster, corporate services director for the town, during the Nov. 13 public hearing for the bylaw.
“One, the lack of information makes our ongoing, day to day operations when it comes to contacting the residents of Maple Estates much more difficult, and requires more resources then it should. The other way is, when it comes to tax arrears, without proper information, it’s not possible for the town to go forward with out tax recovery process, if someone who lives in Maple Estates should come to (delay) with their taxes. Those two main points are the driving force behind this bylaw, and why we thought it was necessary for the town to approve this.”
Coun. Cynthia Papworth asked that if they had a number that they were behind on in collecting in terms of tax arrears. Town CAO Keith Davis said that they have had no manufactured home go into the tax arrears process, but the issue is that they don’t have the required information, should it occur.
According to Division 8.1: Recovery of Taxes Related to Designated Manufactured Homes, of the MGA, under Reporting Requirements, it states that “(1) Unless a municipality passes a bylaw to the contrary, the owner of a manufactured home community must provide monthly reports to the chief administrative officer or a designated officer of the municipality regarding (a) the ownership of all designated manufactured homes in the manufactured home community, including the serial numbers of the designated manufactured homes, and (b) the movement of all designated manufactured homes in and out of the manufactured home community”.
That section of the MGA also grants municipalities the ability to pass a bylaw requiring the owner of the manufactured home community to provide the reports required under the above stated section to the municipality on the dates specified by the municipality, but not more than once a month.
Lyster noted that the serial number was a “very important part for that tax arrears process”, to ensure the town doesn’t become indebted by a community member they can’t collect from.
“The Municipal Government Act mandates that it has to be done monthly, unless there’s another bylaw that’s passed, and so the town also has the opportunity to pass a bylaw requiring, instead of the current situation where we assess all of the individual manufactured home owners, the town passes a bylaw stating that we can just pass a bylaw to have the assessed owner being the owner of the manufactured home community,” said Davis. “The MGA gives some options for the municipality, but the current situation is leaving the town vulnerable, and we haven’t been getting the information that we need, and also the resources that it takes to get that information.”
As they haven’t been receiving “complete information”, administration felt this was the best way to proceed, and a memo from administration containing an incomplete timeline of events dates back to 2007.
“There is a risk that the manufactured home owner, where we don’t have the complete information, doesn’t pay the taxes, then we won’t be able to collect the taxes from that home owner.”
No one attending the public hearing spoke in favour of the bylaw, and no letters were received by administration supporting the bylaw.
When asked who opposed the bylaw, Dan Chronik, a Picture Butte resident and the owner of Maple Estates Mobile Home Park, was one of the people who spoke up, saying the issue wasn’t something that changes daily, as people weren’t “coming and going”.
“There inadequate information, there are two trailers that don’t have serial numbers anymore. In 40-something years, you’ve always collected your tax. So there’s a potential list on those two trailers, because there is not a serial number if you went into arrears, it would be difficult,” said Chronik. “We understand that. But the way trailers work is they used to put serial numbers in the kitchen cupboards. SO anybody changes a kitchen they lose the serial number. Now the risk to the town — because I pay a lot of tax — is the tax on the trailer, which is probably $150 a year. Now for me to administer and collect the taxes, I have to pass that on. It’s a business… to other taxpayers, to access the potential risk to the town, which is really, in 41 years you’ve never not collected. That’s what it comes down to; how much risk are we really facing, and whose going to pay for the collection.”
Chronik said that that if he was going to have to start setting up bills to collect the taxes himself, the cost to do so would be passed down to residents of the manufactured homes park, who pay the same taxes as everyone else does in the town — despite not enjoying benefits such as sidewalks — but would have to pay him extra in order to pay the same tax.
Chronik also pointed out that is he was going to administer the assessment for the people who pay monthly as part of their rent, under the Mobile Home Tendencies Act, he can’t raise rent for six months, so he won’t be able to recoup those costs during that time.
One resident of Maple Estates, Donna Adams said she paid her taxes on time, and asked council, “what have you’ve given me”, noting the lack of amenities in Maple Estates compared to other areas in town.
As Chronik would now have to collect the town’s taxes from her, she will have to pay that additional cost and receive nothing extra in return.
“If I want to walk to work, I have to stumble across the schoolyard, because there’s no sidewalks, there is no town transit,” said Adams, adding she also did not like her personal information from her taxes being available for anyone to see.
“How much I have to pay in taxes, how much my trailer is worth, I don’t see you telling me how much your house is worth. I am opposed to it, for those reasons.”
In response to a question, Lyster said it was “a little bit of a misconception” that someone’s assessment was not public information, as anyone could come to the town office and request to see either a tax certificate for any property in town— which would show the tax status and assessment status of that property — or, as per the MGA, come in and, after paying the fee set by council, inspect the assessment roll — which is a report of every property in town.
“There isn’t an implied privacy there, and the reason for that is we want to be open with the assessments, to show that no one person is living in a mansion but pays best price with the assessor with something like that. It’s an open process,” said Lyster.
“Anybody could see anybody’s assessment at any time.”
Another issue that was raised was that some of the residents in Maple Estates may pay their taxes in their mortgage payment, and concern was raised that if the bylaw goes through, how they would deal with that without the homeowner having to rewrite their mortgage. Lyster said that they would have to be an arrangement made with the mortgage company.
Other people speaking against the bylaw cited concerns including privacy, tax increases, school taxes, a lack of information on the issue and frustration over the town and the owners not reaching an agreement beforehand on what to do over the two trailers without serial numbers.
Davis stressed that if council were to pass the bylaw, it wouldn’t go into effect until after one year from the date of passing.
“If we passed this bylaw in 2018, this bylaw won’t take effect until January of 2020. And so we want compliance, we’re hopeful we can work with the property owner. We’re not just brining down the hammer, this has been after years of correspondence between the owner and the town,” said Davis. “I think we’re all hopeful on administration’s side, that we can get the information that we need.”
Davis said that over the years, the town has been asking “constantly” about the issue with the serial numbers, and there hasn’t been anything done to come up with a “compromise or workable solution”.
‘It’s not a slap-shot thing that administration is recommending this, it’s been years of after requesting the information. If the information hasn’t existed, then that’s fine, but we haven’t come to any kind of workable solution for the town as well as the owners.”
Mayor Cathy Moore asked if the issue was just over the serial numbers, to which Davis replied it was over “other things as well”.
Feist asked that for those mobile homes without serial numbers, what happens in case of a fire, asking if the owners wouldn’t need serial numbers for things such as insurance purposes.
Chronik said that although the resident would need it, he wouldn’t.
“My understanding is, all the information that we can give you, you’ve had for a while. If somebody who owns a trailer lives in northern Alberta, chooses to change his address and not inform me, it’s very difficult for me to give you that information properly because I don’t talk to him every month,” said Chronik.
“I give you the information as quick as I can and when I get it. You have every serial number except two.
“We physically went door to door, looking for serial numbers because a lot of the residents didn’t know where they were. We had to go find them, on their trailers. So to say, pretend we haven’t done anything, if unfair and untrue.”
Two letters were submitted in opposition of the bylaw, citing concerns raised in the meeting.
Later in the meeting, after the public hearing closed, council returned to the bylaw. During discussion, Feist noted there was “lots to think on” and proposed that they table the bylaw to allow for more discussion of what they heard during the public hearing.
“Is it mandatory, is it not mandatory? Do you know what I mean,” asked Feist. “Table it, and lets discuss all that was said here tonight.
Davis said that administration could ask and answer those questions “to the best of our ability” and get back to council.
Coun. Joe Watson noted that there was a “certain amount of urgency” for council to pass the bylaw before the end of December, so it would go into effect in 2020, otherwise t would go into effect in 2021.
“It’s a loose end that’s been flopping out there forever, and it’s got to get wrapped up. I’m just not absolutely clear on what our actions would be if we did not do this,” said Watson.
“I’ve got a letter here from 2007. I might also add I spent some time with people from registry, and the person in Edmonton said, when we brought this subject up, he said ‘My God, you’re the seventh community to be talking to me about this’.”
Watson said in the previous MGA, serial numbers could be fabricated in these instances, but that ability was taken away in the new MGA, which could have “solved our problem here”, and supported the proposal to table the bylaw for further discussion, although he recognized they had a deadline.
“I’m concerned it only applies to such a small number here, but I don’t think anybody realizes the time and energy that administration has put into this. And when I see a situation, like this thing has been brought up and discussed or letters written since 2007 for God’s sake, there’s got to be something that can put this thing to bed.”
Council passed a unanimous motion to table the bylaw.