City backs off houseboats
Decides not to appeal tribunal decision against taxes

Recommendation: That the city appeal the decision of the Assessment Appeal Tribunal to the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories.
For: Ben McDonald, Blake Lyons
Against: Cheryl Best, Bob Brooks, Peggy Near, Kevin O'Reilly, David Ramsay, Robert Slaven

by Richard Gleeson

Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 12/97) - Houseboaters will not be on the hook for property taxes accumulated while the NWT Supreme Court decides whether the city has jurisdiction over Yellowknife Bay.

The new city council decided Monday night by a vote of 6-2 not to ask the court to overturn a recent Assessment Appeal Tribunal decision that said the city does not have the right to tax houseboats.

Arguments against the appeal focused on dollars rather than any sentimental attachment to houseboats.

"If we're looking after the taxpayers of Yellowknife, why are we spending money where we shouldn't be spending money?" asked Ald. David Ramsay. "I don't think we have a chance to win the appeal."

Ald. Bob Brooks agreed, saying the city would be "throwing money away" in a futile attempt to overturn the tribunal's decision.

However, council was united in maintaining it is unfair houseboaters don't pay for city services such as garbage collection, use of recreational facilities and education.

In a written decision handed down last month, the tribunal said the law does not clearly give the city the right to assess, and consequently tax, houseboats.

The tribunal also said the issue should be put on hold until the Supreme Court decided whether the city has jurisdiction over the houseboaters. That case, brought by the city, is currently before the court.

Those arguing in favor of appealing the decision noted the proceeding was the only hope the city has of claiming taxes owed while the jurisdictional issue is being decided.

"If we don't appeal, we can never collect those taxes," said Mayor Dave Lovell.

But according to city staff, the city stands to gain only $8,700 a year in taxes from the 14 houseboats moored between Jolliffe Island and the shores of Yellowknife.

Questioned following a presentation to council, houseboat owner Fraser Weir said voluntary payment of taxes would be impractical.

"If a dozen houseboaters thought the city was a good charitable foundation and decided to chip in, and three don't ... I don't think that's any way to run a tax regime."

Weir said an appeal of tribunal decisions would be granted only in cases where the tribunal made an error in law. No new evidence can be presented to support the request for an appeal.