'Flower boat' owner fighting property tax

A Gibsons woman is trying to raise community support in her battle with B.C.'s assessment authority over its decision to levy property taxes on her houseboat.

Liz Williams, whose "flower boat" is one of Gibsons Harbour's most colourful tourist attractions, said she has received tremendous support from the public since Canada Day, when she posted a large pink sign on the dock detailing her ordeal. Her next step, she said, is to launch a petition campaign.

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Williams, who has lived on the houseboat for more than 10 years and pays close to $1,000 per month in moorage fees, was first assessed in 2011 for about $460 in property taxes on her boat, shed and float. She paid her taxes the first year, she said, because she was afraid.

"But then the more response I got from people in the town, the more I realized it doesn't make sense," she said. "I feel there's a real injustice here, because I'm the only boat being taxed, and I don't own any land."

Unlike two floating homes in the harbour that are assessed for property taxes, Williams said her houseboat - a 38-foot (11.4-metre) catamaran - is outfitted with an outboard motor and is self-propelled.

"Mine is a boat -a registered boat. It's got a hull and an engine. Last year we took her out to show that it is a boat," she said.

As part of her moorage fees, Williams pays a live-aboard fee, as do many other boat owners tied up in the harbour. Her fear, she said, is that she is being targeted as a precedent and other live-aboard boat owners could be next.

"It's just a tax grab, and I don't want to be the start of it," she said. "I just feel like a little bug getting squished."

In her dockside Canada Day letter, Williams said the latest property tax notice sent by the Town of Gibsons included a clause stating her houseboat would be seized and sold for delinquent taxes unless they are paid by the end of September.

On the day after the sign was posted, Gibsons chief administrative officer Mani Machado came by for a visit and assured her that her boat would not be seized.

In an interview, Machado reiterated that Williams' property is not up for tax sale, saying it would take two to three more years of unpaid taxes before that "worst-case scenario" stage is reached. The warning in her tax notice, he said, is a standard cautionary clause regarding delinquent taxes.

"The other important point I made is that it's not the Town's assessment decision. We are simply the tax collector," Machado said.

The Town, however, is asking BC Assessment to review Williams' file.

"It's a rather unusual role," Machado said, "but she's a local resident and we have no problem with her being assessed as a boat."

BC Assessment records show that Williams appealed her assessment to the property assessment review panel in 2012 and 2013, and was unsuccessful. In neither case, however, did she take the appeal to the next stage-the provincial property assessment appeal board.

After being contacted by Coast Reporter, deputy assessor Grant McDonald suggested Williams phone BC Assessment's Vancouver Sea to Sky office to discuss the problem.

"She should call us and we'll try to navigate her through this," McDonald said. "It would be better to avail herself of some of the remedies that are provided within the process, rather than putting it out to the public."

McDonald cited section 26 of the B.C. Assessment Act, which specifies that Crown land and improvements can be assessed in the name of the "holder or occupier."

"Even though she doesn't own land, we're guided by the Assessment Act," he said.

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