City issues new tax notices

New measures implemented to avoid same mistake that saw homeowners overcharged

The City of Penticton is taking steps so an error on the 2014 tax notices doesn’t happen again.

Last week, the city announced that it would be reissuing 14,000 property tax notices, at an estimated cost of $12,000, due to the wrong school tax rate being used.

Rather than being billed the Okanagan Skaha School District rate, the tax notices featured a higher rate from the neighbouring Okanagan Similkameen school district.

The mistake was discovered by a taxpayer, Judie Schinz, who wondered why her school tax levy had risen substantially.

“If this had not been brought to our attention, it would have been brought up the subsequent day in a planned audit of the school tax coupon,” said Colin Fisher, the city’s chief financial officer.

Fisher said that control processes verifying the city’s tax system were done by city staff, before sending the notices, but the variances detected and recorded were mistakenly attributed to either changes in assessed values, or differences in resulting from comparisons between system and manual numbers.

“The variances were not adequately followed through on,” said Fisher.

“Immediately upon discovery of the error, the tax system was updated with the correct rate.”

Fisher proposed council approve a formal and more rigorous sign-off process. Once it is in place, he explained, all the rates will be verified in writing, signed off by the staff person performing the validation, the manager responsible, and by the CFO.

“This is a control issue, and as such, it falls under my province and I am answerable to mayor and council for this particular issue,” said Fisher.

“The review of controls is something that goes on a continual basis.”

Some taxpayers, either by mail or in person, had already paid their taxes prior to the error being uncovered.

Fisher confirmed they are being contacted and being offered a refund or a credit on next year’s tax bill.

“As of June 16, 48 contacts had been made and three refunds requested,” said Fisher.

The province was also contacted, according to Fisher, and it was determined there was no mandatory requirement to reissue the tax notices, though the city decided it was prudent to send out amended tax notices to all taxpayers.

The estimated $12,000 cost is based on 14,000 tax notices at roughly 75 cents per tax notice for postage and 11 cents for stationery.

That doesn’t include staff costs, which Fisher said are yet to be determined.

Despite tax notices being re-issued, Fisher said property taxes are still due by July 31.

“So far, no consideration has been given for extending the tax deadline. It really hasn’t impacted people’s ability to pay,” said Fisher.

“The biggest impact is when they come in to pay, they end up paying less money.”

Council voted unanimously to implement Fisher’s new controls.