Alycia's Ukrainian restaurant and a prestigous Wellington Crescent mansion are among hundreds of properties the city could soon seize for unpaid property taxes.
Just over 480 property owners owe city hall a total of $3.9 million in back taxes for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 tax years. As the first of many steps toward seizing the properties, the city recently published the list of delinquent properties in the Manitoba Gazette, the province's official compendium of legal notices.
The list includes dozens of houses in Winnipeg's inner city as well as commercial properties like car-repair shops, small manufacturing businesses and many high-end homes on streets like Kingston Row.
Alycia's, the legendary Winnipeg eatery beloved by the late John Candy, owes the city a little over $39,000 in back taxes.
General manager Roger Leclerc said the debt is part of the 34-year-old restaurant's struggle to stay afloat over the last seven or eight years. He's hoping "the slow painful process" of turning the restaurant around will be complete over the next two years.
"We're working out payment arrangements with the city. They've been very, very nice," said Leclerc. "We've gone through it before and we'll get through it again."
In 2006, Alycia's owed the city nearly $50,000 in back taxes but managed to avoid losing the restaurant.
Taking title to properties is the last thing city hall wants to do -- maintaining, insuring and disposing of a hodgepodge of homes and businesses costs money.
Property owners like Leclerc still have multiple chances over the next two years to get their parcels out of hawk.
"We ask people 'Come talk to us. There are still things we can do here,' " said Mel Chambers, the city's deputy assessor and the tax department's manager of support services and strategic planning.
The biggest outstanding tax bill belongs to 881 Main Street, a one-story storefront that's the former home of one of the giants of the waning Internet pharmacy boom, CanadaMeds.com.
Building owner Daren Jorgenson, who also owns the Four Rivers Medical clinics, was baffled by the news his property was in arrears, saying his company refinanced the property last year and thought the tax bill was paid in full.
A quick check with his lawyer Wednesday revealed confusion over which tax roll number covered the property, which is grouped with several others on that corner of Main Street.
Jorgenson said the outstanding tax bill will be paid before month's end.
Also on the city's hit list is a 10,000-square-foot brick mansion at 484 Wellington Crescent that's saddled with a bill for $39,000 in back taxes. The home once belonged to George Richardson, the son of James A. Richardson and the longtime former president of the family's grain, energy and financial services empire.
According to city tax records, the property is now owned by Ian Rentz, a local developer who could not be located for comment.
Tax sale process
Oct. 30: The list of properties up for tax sale is published in the Manitoba Gazette. Owners have until the end of November to pay their full bill, and they've already had three years worth of notices and letters asking for payment and explaining the process.
Dec. 10: The city registers a tax sale "instrument" -- like a lien -- against properties that still owe back taxes. The owner has a year to pay the bill and yank the property out of tax-sale limbo.
Dec. 2011: The city can officially apply to take legal title to a home or parcel of land. By then, most property owners will have found a way to make good on the tax bill or will have sold the property. It's often only genuinely derelict properties the city is left with.
Early 2012: The city starts applying to take formal title to the derelict properties, which involves another round of notices and another 90 days to pay the bill.
End of 2012: The city's property department decides which properties it actually wants to own -- the ones that could be resold or donated to non-profit housing groups, perhaps -- and which are best left in limbo. The city only ever takes title to a handful of properties.