Kimberly Herritt got one deed and one survey when she bought her property in Lark Harbour a dozen years ago.
The property, like several others in town, is in two sections and separated by a road. Her house, like those several others, is on one side and her shed is on the other side of the road.
Up until this year, she was taxed as though the split property was one.
That all changed this year when the Lark Harbour town council decided to exercise its right to stop pooling property assessments. Now considered to be the owner of two separate properties, Herritt and others in the same situation have had their tax bills doubled.
For Herritt, that means a jump in her bill from $365 to $730.
“I could understand, if I had another lot up on the highway somewhere, having to pay separate taxes on that,” she said. “But this is something that I bought all in one piece.”
Herritt’s home isn’t connected to any municipal water or sewer service. The sewer line for her property actually crosses under the road to the plot she owns on the other side.
That alone, she feels, should render her property as one parcel.
“I couldn’t buy one without the other 12 years ago and I couldn’t sell one without the other now,” she said.
Ria MacDonald is Lark Harbour’s acting mayor after the resignation for personal reasons of former mayor Melanie Joyce a few weeks ago. She said the town raised its mill rate to 3.65 last year and the new council elected in September did not want to raise that rate again this year to help offset the rising costs of operating the town.
Instead, the council decided to act on getting rid of assessment pooling, which affects 17 per cent of the town’s property owners. MacDonald said most towns in Newfoundland and Labrador have moved away from assessment pooling since new legislation permitted them to do so in 2012.
“I’m not sure why the previous councils didn’t avail of it, but we did,” she said.
MacDonald noted that the Municipal Assessment Agency considers properties separated by roads to be different, regardless of whether the property owner paid one price for both pieces.
“We are working with residents who do have adjacent properties to get our assessment roll cleaned up,” said MacDonald. “If there is a road bisecting it, especially a road that has been there for a long period of time, like our highway, we are not allowed to assess it as one property if we have done away with assessment pooling.”
Herritt still doesn’t think that’s fair, especially if the town needs more revenue to help pay for water and sewer infrastructure upgrades that don’t yet reach the part of town where Herritt lives and the majority of the split properties are located.
“When council made this decision, they didn’t think it through,” she said. “There are a lot of seniors and people on fixed incomes in this part of town.”
MacDonald said the water and sewer project was definitely a big factor, but not the only one. She said rising power costs and tipping fees for waste disposal were also factors.
Herritt said she wants the town to hold a public meeting to discuss this issue.
No such meeting has been scheduled yet and MacDonald said any residents can have the opportunity to address a public council meeting provided they request to do so 24 hours in advance.
MacDonald said the town’s budget has been submitted and approved and they don’t want to have to retract it over this issue.
She added the town will be working with every property owner on a case-by-case basis to see what can be done. Council will also be revisiting its tax structure for its 2019 budget, she said.
“The bulk of our council is new and we have new staff,” MacDonald said. “This is a learning process for us all. All of us came into this with the best intentions for this town in our hearts and that is all we are trying to do.”