This article first appeared in a collaborative series produced by the Alberta Municipalities, Rural Municipalities of Alberta and the Ombudsman’s office. To read the full four-part series, start here.
A senior couple affected by an annexation agreement between municipalities wanted to continue to live in their home which over the years had been modified for their special needs. The Waltons’* final wish before annexation was the approval of a subdivision. They understood that if the subdivision was approved prior to annexation, their municipal taxes would be grandfathered in at their current tax rate. If they altered their land use after annexation, a new tax rate would apply, resulting in a difference of several thousand dollars a year. It turned out the Waltons misunderstood the rules.
The Waltons received conditional approval for their subdivision plan shortly before their land was annexed. The Waltons met the conditions for their subdivision after annexation. The plan was endorsed by the annexing-municipality and was subsequently registered with Land Titles. However, as a result of the registration of the subdivision, the Waltons no longer qualified for a special tax consideration and their tax rate increased.
The Ombudsman investigated whether the process of notifying the Waltons of the annexation was administratively fair. The legislation was clear that it was the registration of a subdivision plan with Land Titles that would impact a landowner’s tax rate. The public consultation documents used by the municipality did advise that subdivision of land would end the special tax consideration. However, the public consultation documents did not specify the triggering event that would end special tax considerations.
The balance between simplicity and specificity can sometimes be a difficult one. In this case, the Ombudsman found the municipality had acted within their legislative authority and followed an administratively fair process. Still, there was an opportunity for the municipality to improve their future communication about special tax considerations. The Ombudsman suggested future public consultation documents for annexations should explicitly state the triggering event for the end of a special tax consideration. The municipality agreed to do so. Using precise language when sharing information with the public can assist with understanding otherwise complex processes.