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Tax arrears disputes continue to plague Brent’s Cove

Linus Sullivan is pushing back against the municipality of Brent’s Cove over taxes.
Linus Sullivan is pushing back against the municipality of Brent’s Cove over taxes. - Contributed

‘I am tired of being bullied, harassed, etc., by our town council about taxes I paid years ago’

The tiny town of Brent’s Cove has seen its fair share of troubles recently, and they may not be over yet.

At least one resident, Linus Sullivan, is fighting an attempt by the town of 157 residents on the Baie Verte Peninsula to collect back taxes he says he has already paid.

“Council demanded that residents bring in receipts for 2009 to 2015,” he said. “The majority of residents don’t keep receipts that long. Why should residents have to bring in receipts as proof they paid their taxes?”

Brent’s Cove initially garnered province-wide attention in December 2016, when The Telegram reported Linus Sullivan’s brother, Michael Sullivan, filed a civil lawsuit against the town for a burned-out water heater element he said was due to the town turning off his water.

The town countersued for back taxes totalling $4,700 (which was later reduced to $3,000 after Michael produced some receipts). During the course of that case, Michael Sullivan obtained a forensic audit that indicated the town had suffered losses of $49,429 between 2009 and 2015 as a result of “alleged employee dishonesty” before the town hired its new clerk, Scott Corbett. A $50,000 insurance policy covered those losses.

The case led to an RCMP investigation of the town’s finances. In September 2017, police investigators charged Ellen Butler, the former town clerk, with fraud over $5,000, uttering a forged document and falsification of books and documents. Butler pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial at Grand Falls-Windsor starting Dec. 3.

“Seems like small town councils can and will do what they want until we take a stand against bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats and scare tactics.”

-Linus Sullivan, resident

Michael Sullivan and Brent’s Cove have since settled their dispute, but the details of the settlement are subject to a confidentiality agreement.

The current dispute between Linus Sullivan and the town is over $1,072 the town claims Linus and his wife Judy owed at the end of 2015.

“I am tired of being bullied, harassed, etc., by our town council about taxes I paid years ago,” he said. “They have tried to ruin my A1 credit rating by intimidation, took me to collections, and cut my water.

“Seems like small town councils can and will do what they want until we take a stand against bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats and scare tactics.”

Corbett would not comment on the specific case, saying only that he is following the town’s policy on collecting back taxes.

That policy required residents who the town claims were in arrears as of the end of 2015 to enter into repayment agreements with the town or face collection.

“If no policy is in place by April 1, 2017, or policy is breached by residents, collection agency will be used to collect outstanding taxes and fees associated with collection,” the policy states.

But Linus Sullivan says not only has he already paid the taxes, but that the town has already recouped its losses through the insurance payout and is now trying to double dip.

Hubert Burden, a retired municipal auditor declined to comment on the current situation, but said he found while working on Michael Sullivan’s case that the town’s books were not reliable and called into question whether Brent’s Cove could even prove the unpaid taxes.

“The town does have an obligation to be able to show that the taxpayer did not pay the account,” he said.

Rhonda Wells, the new mayor of Brent’s Cove elected last fall, said she was unaware of any ongoing issues with back taxes.

“It hasn’t been brought up since I’ve been there,” she said.

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Again, Corbett was unwilling to talk, but an email from the clerk to the Department of Municipal Affairs provided by Linus Sullivan, suggests the town has made all the adjustments it intends to.

“I will send a final report showing the listed balance of all accounts at the end of 2015 and the corrected balance based on these non-credited receipts within the next two weeks,” Corbett wrote on May 12, 2016. “After I discuss that matter with council, I will also inform you both of any decisions made pertaining to write-offs of taxes and settling of account balances.”

Meanwhile, Linus Sullivan continues to refuse to pay and has taken his case all the way to the deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs, Jamie Chippett. In an email to Linus Sullivan, the deputy minister promised the case would be investigated.

Lynn Robinson, media relations manager for Municipal Affairs, responded to enquiries from The Central Voice with the following statement: “The department has reviewed the complaints made in the matter between Town of Brent’s Cove and the resident of Brent’s Cove (Linus Sullivan), and officials been in regular contact with both parties,” she wrote. “The department determined that the town acted in accordance with municipal legislation and has encouraged the council and resident to continue discussions to work toward a solution.”

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