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MD of Bighorn waives tax penalty for small business

BIGHORN – The owner of Ghost Lake Recreations will not have to pay a penalty for forgetting to pay his municipal taxes this year after councillors narrowly voted in favour of waiving the penalty on Tuesday (Sept. 11).
MD of bighorn

BIGHORN – The owner of Ghost Lake Recreations will not have to pay a penalty for forgetting to pay his municipal taxes this year after councillors narrowly voted in favour of waiving the penalty on Tuesday (Sept. 11).

Councillors voted 3-2 in favour of waiving the $429.03 penalty despite strong opposition from Reeve Dene Cooper and CAO Martin Buckley.

According to a letter from Mike Weinert, owner of the business, he forgot to pay his taxes because of ongoing challenges related to the 2013 floods.

“As you may be aware, this has been another difficult year for my business – post flood 2013 recovery has not been quick for me and as a result of the additional challenges faced this year due to the launch ramp rebuild, the payment of my taxes completely slipped my mind,” wrote Weinert.

A big part of the reason his business is struggling is because after the 2013 floods the province and TransAlta agreed to limit the water level in the Ghost Lake reservoir until mid-July to protect Calgary from spring flooding.

As a result, Weinert told media outlets earlier this summer that his business was down by about 80 per cent because the lower water level in the reservoir has significantly reduced the boating season.

To try and help revive the recreational area, the province recently built a $2.5-million, three-lane boat launch, however, a lot of boaters have not returned.

“I have been in business since 1995 and never have I been late,” wrote Weinert.

“I recognize that this is fully my responsibility and I do accept my mistake. Given the enhanced challenges in my business, this amount is significant to me and I would respectfully request that the council members agree to forgive this late charge.”

Councillors Paul Ryan, Paul Clark and Lisa Rosvold heeded his request and voted to waive the penalty.

Ryan said in most circumstances he wouldn’t support waiving the penalty, but given the situation he said it was the right thing to do.

“The reason I varied from my normal position on this is that I think that if we do grant his request, what we’re doing is we’re showing that we support small businesses by recognizing the fact his business has been affected by another level of government.”

Clark said regardless of whether Weinert forgot or not he was affected by circumstances beyond his control and agreed with Ryan that waiving the penalty would send a message that the MD supports small business.

“This is a real example of somebody being a victim of circumstance, which he had no control over,” said Clark.

Cooper said waiving the penalty would set a “bad example” to other municipal taxpayers and be “inconsistent.”

“The MD residents didn’t cause the change, but when somebody isn’t carrying their load in my MD the bill doesn’t go away,” said Cooper.

Buckley described the decision as “irresponsible.”

“If this business has been impacted by the actions of other levels of government I strongly suggest to you that you should take that up with those other levels of government and not rely on local taxpayers to cover those expenses.”

Director of finance Shaina Tutt also strongly opposed the move, telling council that historically council never waives penalties for late taxes regardless of whether a business is struggling or not.

“We have many businesses of many sorts within the municipality and many of them, I’m sure at some point in time, have struggled with the tax rate that we’ve applied to commercial or non-residential properties,” said Tutt.

“We have a lot of farming operations in the municipality and I’m sure that they’ve faced many obstacles over the past 10 years with either drought or disease in their businesses and it’s not typical that we would forgive penalties for late payment.”

Coun. Erik Butters said it was one of the first times that he has been on the fence about an issue, but nonetheless he voted against waiving the penalty.

“For me, it’s a very difficult decision,” said Butters, “But ‘I forgot to pay my taxes’ is not an excuse.”

Coun. Lisa Rosvold, on the other hand, said she understood both sides of the issue, but felt empathic to Weinert’s situation and voted to waive the tax penalty.

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