Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Want to become a member? Check out the benefits here.
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
Get the latest summer forecast and weather knowledge from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
What you need to know about COVID-19: August 11, 2020
Linus Sullivan still doesn’t know why Brent’s Cove wants taxes he says he's already paid.
And, he isn’t the only one. A number of residents believe the town is looking for their back taxes due to discrepancies in its bookkeeping.
It's left residents with a distrust for their municipal representatives.
“We’re a very frustrated town,” said Sullivan, who is refusing to pay the council the $1,072 they believe he owes.
To get a handle on the precarious situation in Brent’s Cove, it is necessary to go back a couple of years. In Dec. 2016, resident Michael Sullivan filed a civil lawsuit against the town over a burned out water heater element that he felt was damaged because town turned off his water.
Brent’s Cove countersued looking for Sullivan to pay almost $5,000 in back taxes, although that number was eventually reduced. Over the course of the proceedings, he obtained the results of a forensic audit that identified the town had lost $49,429 between 2009 and 2015 over what the audit called alleged employee dishonesty.
That led to an investigation by the RCMP and later Ellen Butler, a former town clerk with Brent’s Cove, was charged with fraud and forgery. The town also made an insurance claim on the money.
Butler is still facing those charges in provincial court in Grand Falls-Windsor. Her next court date is Jan. 24.
Another layer was added to the story of Brent’s Cove earlier this month when the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court rejected the town's civil claim against Butler.
The town was seeking to get back $57,000 they alleged Butler had stolen.
The former town clerk has filed a counter-claim against the town, seeking damages for wrongful dismissal and harassment she alleges she received from certain members of the town council.
That claim has not yet been dealt with by the courts.
For the residents, the decision of Justice Orsborn has raised more questions than it has provided answers.
“Somebody had their finger in the pie. We’d like to know who,” said Sullivan.
He says they also can't understand why the town is pushing residents to pay back taxes based on a ledger that is believed to be fraudulent.
“There is a lot of red flags if you ask me,” said Sullivan.
Brent's Cove Mayor Rhonda Wells declined to comment on the matter when contacted by The Central Voice. Instead, she deferred the questions to town clerk Scott Corbett.
When contacted by Central Voice, Corbett requested a written request be sent to the town. A subsequent email was not answered prior to deadline.
Meanwhile, Sullivan is trying a political approach to find a solution for residents.
He has asked Baie Verte-Green Bay MHA Brian Warr, Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans MHA Chris Tibbs, and representatives from Municipalities NL and the Department of Municipal Affairs for an investigation. So far, he says, he has gotten very little traction.
Sullivan said Tibbs, who is also the opposition critic for municipal affairs, has been adamant about looking into the file.
A spokesperson with the Department of Municipal Affairs confirmed the department has received correspondence from some Brent's Cove residents with regards to municipal taxes.
"The department has advised residents that operational issues such as taxation and collection are the responsibility of the town. As such, this is a matter between the individual residents and the town, and there is no further role for the department at this time," the department stated in an email to Central Voice. "The department has also suggested that the residents seek legal guidance, and it is our understanding that some residents have engaged legal counsel."
For Sullivan, taking the matter to court might cost more than what he owes in taxes.
Another court case isn't what he wants.
“We want clarity to this situation,” said Sullivan. “Another investigation as far as I am concerned would give us that.
“That is all we’re asking for. We want answers."