Harbour Grace alters vacant land tax
Mil rate out of the equation for water and sewer taxation on apartment buildings
After receiving lots of feedback from residents, Harbour Grace council approved a motion last Wednesday to change a pair of controversial taxes linked to vacant pieces of land. The town also adjusted the water and sewer rate for apartments in partial response to what a few presenters had to say at a recent council meeting.
Responding to plenty of public feedback, the Town of Harbour Grace has voted to adjust how it taxes vacant land.
Council voted to approve a motion last Wednesday afternoon at a special meeting. Under the new tax structure, a vacant piece of land will be taxed at the regular mil rate of 7.75. The $400 water and sewer tax for vacant building lots would also be eliminated.
Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams and Coun. Hayward Blake were the lone council members not in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting. The new tax structure will still need to be approved at the next council meeting scheduled for March 8.
Council also agreed to change how the town taxes water and sewer services for apartments. It will now charge a flat fee of $400 per apartment, eliminating a rate of eight mils that was added on to the $400 charge.
Mayor Terry Barnes said council debated the matter for an hour Wednesday.
“We’re after getting attacked by the government this year so much, and it’s not fair for the residents of the town to be picking up the extra burden that we are imposing, which we don’t really need to impose.”
Barnes spoke about the same issue prior to three presentations made at Monday’s public council meeting, stating he wanted the vacant land taxes re- scinded or changed. He said a lot of residents contacted him about the issue.
“These increases have put an extra burden on our taxpayers who are finding it difficult to make ends meet,” the mayor said at the Monday council meeting.
All three presenters spoke Monday night on tax issues in the town, suggesting the vacant land taxes ($100 for property and $400 for water and sewer) were unfair and particularly burdensome for people living with a fixed income already facing so many increased costs.
What was said Monday
Gerald Winsor, a resident with two small parcels of land that add up to approximately half-an-acre, told council members last Monday he was dismayed last year when he received a bill indicating he would pay $700 for those two parcels. Used as gardens, Winsor previously paid $30 for the land. He said one of his parcels of land is assessed at $700.
“I’m on one income. Some of us are blessed with two or three incomes, but not all of us,” said Winsor.
Last April, council elected to reduce that minimum charge to $50. This ultimately saved Winsor $600.
“$600 in my pocket was a great help,” he said.
Winsor is now shocked to see the vacant land tax double. He believes it’s unfair to treat a fiveacre piece of property the same as one that’s 0.12 acres.
“The taxes on my house and my land is $350. Those two gardens is more than half of the (tax) value of my house and land is worth, and I think that’s out of proportion.”
Fellow Harbour Grace resident Wayne Martin couldn’t fathom how the council would justify increasing taxes for one portion of the town’s population at a time of significant economic hardship.
“Inflation has gone through the roof in this province,” he said. “We have a very high gas tax, which was passed onto the consumer when people by groceries.”
Jerome McCarthy, who owns two buildings with apartments in Harbour Grace, spoke to the huge tax increase he’s witnessed. For 2017, council increased the water and sewer rate from $400 plus six mils to $400 plus eight mils. In 2015, his water and sewer tax bill for the two buildings was $3,638.
“That had been going up regularly, and I thought that was steep,” he said.
His 2017 bill for the same service stands at $5,567 — a 53 per cent increase.
For three apartments on Harvey Street, the town initially charged McCarthy $588 per apartment for water and sewer in 2017. Compared to other municipalities in the area, that charge is significantly higher. In Carbonear, it’s $360 per apartment. In Bay Roberts, apartment owners are charged $350 for the first apartment and $200 for each additional one thereafter.
“In Bay Roberts, they recognize we have one water line and one sewer line going to this building,” he said. “It’s cheaper to provide that service to a multiunit building. In Bay Roberts we’d be paying $2,350 in water tax.”
McCarthy ultimately did not believe it was right to tie the water and sewer rate to a mil rate.
“We replaced all the windows on Cochrane Street. We replaced the roof on Cochrane Street. So our building, because we maintain it, it’s assessed at a higher value. I understand we have to pay more property tax for that reason. But I don’t see why we have to pay more water tax because I put windows in the building and put a roof on it.”
The changes made Wednesday reduce 2017 budget revenue by tens-of-thousands of dollars, but according to the mayor, the town identified additional revenue in excess of $100,000 previously unaccounted for.
“So we’re not out any money, and we’re actually in some money,” he said Thursday.
The town is operating with a budget of almost $3.5 million for 2017.
Inflation has gone through the roof in this province. We have a very high gas tax, which was passed onto the consumer when people by groceries. — Wayne Martin
There were three presenters at Monday’s Harbour Grace council meeting, all of them unhappy about changes to the town’s tax policy. From the left are Gerald Winsor, Wayne Martin and Jerome McCarthy.