Resident a tax glitch hero

It was thanks to the diligence of a Penticton homeowner that the city was alerted to an error on property tax bills.

Judie Schinz, a resident of Lee Avenue, noticed something was wrong as soon as she got her bill on Monday.

"When it came, I noticed a $408 increase from last year," she said. "So I went down to city hall Tuesday morning to inquire about the increase. I said I understand the assessment is slightly up, but I didn't feel that should make my bill go up by that much."

She also told staff the school taxes seem to be up a lot, by $250, and was told if she wanted an explanation of those taxes to call the school board office.

When she called Tuesday afternoon, they said they have nothing to do with school taxes and to call the city.

Left with more questions than answers, Schinz  went on the provincial website and found the 2014 residential school tax rates.

"When I looked at it, it became obvious every school district has a different rate, and when I looked at the rates for School District 53 Okanagan Similkameen, it was 2.6420, the same rate they gave me at city hall.

I knew we were not School District 53 and that is what clued me in."

She then looked at School District 67 Okanagan Skaha, which has a rate of 2.2813, and a quick calculation showed she was overcharged by $222.55.

She tried to reach staff at city hall, when that was unsuccessful, she emailed the mayor and three councillors.

"By Wednesday morning I knew the city knew this was serious and was taking action," she said.

Councillor John Vassilaki said he took the information to the city as soon as he was contacted by Schinz.

"I'm very concerned that it took a resident to find this out and with errors being made that shouldn't have happened," he said.

City staff admitted Wednesday that the 2014 property tax calculations included the incorrect school district, district 53, not 67, with the result being bills being higher than they should have been.

The reason for the glitch, communications officer Simone Blais said Wednesday, was an administrative error.

Amended tax notices will be sent out as soon as possible and more information on the property tax bills is available on the city website.

Mayor Garry Litke said 14,000 property owners were impacted and that it will cost around $12,000, mostly on postage, to send out amended notices.

As far as the amount overcharged, it would differ for different households.

"This is not something we want to have happen, and I met with the financial department this morning to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said

He also congratulated Schinz for bringing this to the city's attention.

As for Schinz, she is just grateful the mistake was caught early.

"My concern is if it was caught six months or a year down the road, people would have probably already paid their taxes, and then it would have been the city getting money back from the province and the residents having to collect it from the city," she said.




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