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Penticton pays $140K to vulnerable woman who lost home over unpaid taxes

Ombudsperson who investigated city responds saying: It’s never too late to do the right thing
This home at 2357 Cornwall Dr. was sold by the city for $150,000 at an auction. It was assessed at $420,000. The BC Ombudsperson filed a report saying the city failed to help a vulnerable person and sold her home over not paying $10,000 property tax. (Logan Lockhart - Western News)

The City of Penticton will compensate a vulnerable resident who had her home sold at auction for not paying $10,000 in taxes.

During a special meeting of council on Dec. 14, Mayor John Vassilaki offered an apology to the woman, identified in the B.C. Ombudsperson’s report as Ms. Wilson.

“On behalf of Penticton city council, we wish to deliver an apology to ‘Ms. Wilson’ concerning the tax sale of her former home,” said mayor John Vassilaki. “The process by which ‘Ms. Wilson’s’ home was sold followed an unfortunate set of circumstances that occurred as a result of provincial legislation. The City of Penticton acknowledges the part that it played in this process and is committed to working to improve provincial legislation related to property tax sales.

“There was, however, another side to this story and we are disappointed in the Ombudsperson’s conduct and his report.”

Following a special meeting where council passed the city’s budget, the mayor put forward a motion to have the city pay Ms. Wilson $140,000 in restitution, in line with B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke’s recommendation that was published the week prior.

“If I didn’t make this motion I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” said Vassilaki.

He continued to say that Ms. Wilson is now in a care facility, and that the additional money would be needed to ensure that the remainder of her years would be financially secure and comfortable.

The BC Ombudsperson replied to the city’s decision to compensate Ms. Wilson.

“I am very pleased that city council has accepted our recommendation that Ms. Wilson receive compensation,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke. “This outcome clearly demonstrates that it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Chalke’s report had found the city made multiple miscommunications with Ms. Wilson starting after the taxes were deemed delinquent in 2016 leading up to and after the sale of the property in 2017 and the transfer of the property in 2018.

The property ended up selling for $150,000, well below its assessed value of $420,000.

Coun. Campbell Watt was the sole councillor to vote against the motion, having wrestled with his decision during the meeting and expressing his concerns over the fact it would be the city’s taxpayers who would be forced to pay, when he and other councillors struggle every year with deciding which worthy organizations get grants or not.

The mayor also said the city and council were disappointed with the Ombudsperson’s findings. He acknowledged the city’s part in the tax sale, and he noted that the tax sale was done in accordance with provincial legislation. Members of the council all expressed their hopes that following the report and their decision that it leads to changes to the provincial legislation to improve the process and ensure that a situation like Ms. Wilson’s not occur again.

Council also directed city staff to provide as much additional information as they legally could out of their response to the Ombudsperson’s report.

The full 53-page response from city was not included in the Ombudsperson report because it would identify Ms. Wilson, according to Chalke.

City staff stated during the period after the taxes went unpaid and before the property went to the sale staff had contacted Ms. Wilson and stated she had been aware of the upcoming sale and had gone to city hall in 2018 after the sale had gone through and the property transferred.

Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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