Ratepayers awarded tax rebate in wake of county mistake

After a Wetaskiwin County couple found they were the only one of 20 parcels of land with cell tower development to have been assessed...

After a Wetaskiwin County couple found they were the only one of 20 parcels of land with cell tower development to have been assessed and paying property taxes for the past 19 years, they were awarded their tax money back after taking the issue before county council on Apr. 5.

Darlene and David Dickau had a cell tower constructed on their land by Rogers Communications in 1995. In 1997 the county began taxing the subject cellular tower as industrial land.

During the summer of 2015, while they were negotiating extending the lease term of their communications tower the Dickaus discovered they were the only ones out of the 20 being taxed, the 19 others were not.

Darlene attended council’s April 5 meeting to ask for the $5,200 and to explain to council why the assessment had never been appealed; she figured all the cellular towers and land in the county would be treated and taxed equally.

“One can clearly see that we have been unfairly taxed for 19 years. We have never appealed the assessment because we never knew we were the only cellular communication parcel assessed and taxed. How would we have known?” Darlene asked the councillors.

“We have always trusted that the County of Wetaskiwin would assess and tax all residents and their property fairly. We had no idea that we were the only parcel of this type being taxed for the past 19 years,” she added.

Administration recommended council deny the Dickau’s request as the property was always properly assessed and the taxes were never appealed.

Coun. Keith Johnson asked Rene Boutin, director of assessment, how this situation grew to what it was without being noticed and Coun. Larry McKeever wanted to know where the breakdown occurred and 19 parcels were repeatedly missed.

“I don’t know what happened in 1997,” said Boutin. He added he knew 19 had not been assessed but did not know one was. The other 19 properties were assessed in 2015 for the 2016 tax roll.

Boutin says the way the system is set up it’s the ratepayer’s responsibility to keep an eye on their taxes and notice if something is wrong. “We try to facilitate that as much as possible.”

“I tend to have issues when companies or organizations leave it up to the individual to make sure everything is kosher all the time,” said Johnson.

Boutin also added it is possible for the ratepayers to keep themselves informed, as the Dickaus had clearly done.

“To me this is just wrong,” said Coun. Lyle Seely. He says the money should be rebated to make up for the county’s “huge error.”

McKeever felt council should waive one-half to one year’s worth of taxes rather than the full 19 years. “It’s an acknowledgment from the county we made a mistake.”

“I don’t think it’s a huge error, it’s a error,” said Coun. Terry Van de Kraats. However, he added he had no issue giving the money back.