Councillor says town misinformed about vacant land
A Harbour Grace town councillor feels an official from the Department of Municipal Affairs misinformed the town while advising it on taxation for vacant land.
Starting in 2016, residents with vacant land will no longer get taxed based on the property’s assessed value and the mil rate. Instead, a minimum tax amount of $350 will apply to each parcel, no matter the size. In the case of adjoining vacant properties, the owner can look to merge those properties to reduce the amount of tax owed to the town.
At last Wednesday’s public meeting, Coun. Kathy Tetford brought up concerns about advice the town received from municipal affairs before it agreed to adopt the minimum tax policy.
“I voted against this type of taxation thinking it was an unfair tax, even though I was of the understanding we were legislated under the (Municipalities) Act to do so,” she told fellow council members.
The hope was that with this policy, people with smaller parcels of land faced with paying more under the new tax structure would look to sell land to others interested in developing it.
According to Tetford, an official from municipal affairs told the town that legislation required the municipality to change the policy. She’s since found that’s not the case and believes the town should give the issue another look.
Confirms it’s discretionary
When contacted by The Compass last week, a municipal affairs spokesman confirmed choosing to go with a minimum tax instead of an amount based on the mil rate and assessed land value is discretionary. A court case in 2011 granted municipalities the authority to set up a minimum real property tax for vacant land.
Tetford believes the new tax structure for vacant land unfairly benefits those with acres of land owned while leaving people with small plots forking over more money to the town. She said people living on a fixed income will be negatively affected.
Councillors Pat Haire and Hayward Blake spoke out against revisiting the issue.
“It was done in good faith, it was done with the information we all believed was accurate, and I’m not in favour of changing it,” said Blake.
Coun. Tony McCarthy, who voted in favour of the change in policy, admitted he did so under the impression the change had to be made. He said it would be helpful for municipal affairs to clear up the issue.
“I voted against this type of taxation thinking it was an unfair tax, even though I was of the understanding we were legislated under the (Municipalities) Act to do so.” Coun. Kathy Tetford
Coun. Kathy Tetford told her colleagues last week they should take another look at the decision to change how vacant land is taxed in Harbour Grace.