John MacDonald, who is family services director for the Salvation Army in Dawson Creek, appeared before city council on Monday morning to see if there were any changes that could be made to the tax sale process to prevent people from losing their homes due to financial hardships. He said he was made aware of a man who saw a sharp increase in his property taxes due to an error made by the BC Assessment Authority three years ago, and that man was facing losing his home in a tax sale because he was unable to pay those taxes.
MacDonald said he stepped in to pay those back taxes himself so the man wouldn’t lose his home, and the Assessment Authority did reassess the property, but he felt the situation shouldn’t have got to that point.
“I thought what was done to him was not right, that we should have somehow changed what happened,” he said. “Sometimes laws are made to help, and sometimes laws are meant to hurt. I think we have a tool here, but the tool has become a weapon, and that weapon has hurt somebody.”
He added he does not think it is right that the property would have been sold based on the value of outstanding taxes, penalties and interest owing, called the “upset price,” rather than the actual market value of the property.
MacDonald said the resident in question was unable to understand the process and therefore could not appeal the assessment or the tax sale.
Councillors expressed their sympathies about the situation, but councillor Marilyn Belak, who sat on a tribunal that considered appeals of property assessments, said it is critical that residents go to the Assessment Authority with any questions or concerns they have about their property assessments because the appeals process is the only real recourse.
“People who go to the Assessment Authority and make their concerns known right away do get help making sure they follow the process and get in on the tribunal,” said Belak. “The tribunal is the only ones that can sway that law on the basis of humanity and common understanding.”
Mayor Mike Bernier added there are provincial government programs to assist individuals facing financial hardship who are unable to pay their property taxes.