Tax mix up quashes aspiring councillors hopes
The municipal election isn't even here yet and it's already hit a sour note with Gerald Thompson.
A prominent member of the business community, he was all set to run as a councillor in Grand Falls-Windsor. But when nominations closed Sept. 1, he was told by returning officer and town manager Mike Pinsent that he couldn't run for council.
According to town records, Thompson's taxes were in arrears, which disqualified him, despite his signed nomination form.
Pinsent cited the relevant section of the Municipal Elections Act in a news release. In order to be nominated to serve as councillor, the person must have lived in the municipality for at least 30 days before the nomination period began and must not be "in arrears of taxes or other charges payable to the municipality."
The criteria were advertised Aug. 24 and Aug. 27. Each candidate for nomination had to read and declare that they are qualified to be nominated as part of the nomination procedure, Pinsent added.
In January, the town sends out tax bills that have a due date of June 30 and an early bird discount date of March 31. In April, the town issues invoices with amounts due and giving notice of the due date. After June 30, the account is considered in arrears. Then a third invoice statement goes out, listing interest charges on outstanding amounts.
Pinsent figures Thompson misunderstood the term "tax arrears."
Thompson thinks a double standard is at play.
"Mike (Pinsent) said to me in the discussions that he would drive around town and he'd seen people who, by their signs, indicated that they were running," he said. "And that he had checked them out and they hadn't paid (their tax bill) like they were supposed to pay, and he called them and got them to do it."
Thompson said he wasn't given that opportunity.
"My complaint here is that I don't think he processed that application with due diligence," he said. "If he did it for one, like I said to him, that would make a red flag or red light come on, that other people may be in the same situation. I didn't know that 2009 was considered in arrears. How many people do?
"When they said 'arrears,' I thought they meant 2008. My wife was with me. She pays the bills, and I can assure you that I don't owe for 2008. We had our water and sewer paid for 2009, just the other part of the property tax that we didn't have paid. I accepted what he said and said, 'I'll come and pay it.'"
According to Thompson, Pinsent's reply was, "'It doesn't make any difference. Your name is not going on the list.'
"I thought that was pretty arrogant," Thompson said.
He said he was disappointed because he didn't make the decision lightly to run for council and had received a lot of encouragement to run.
He is well known in the region as chairman of the Exploits Valley Economic Development Corp. board of directors, vice-president (and acting president until the election) of the Exploits Regional Chamber of Commerce and for his numerous volunteer activities over the years.
"I do bring a lot of experience and leadership to the table and I'd like to be a part of it. So I put my name forward," he said.
The Department of Municipal Affairs doesn't comment on individual cases, but a department spokeswoman pointed to the legislation.
"Section 15 of the Municipal Elections Act clearly identifies the qualifications that candidates must meet to run as a candidate for municipal council," she said.
"The nomination process is clear and it is the responsibility of candidates to ensure that qualifications are met, and the responsibility of the returning officer to ensure that rules are adhered to."