Har­bour Grace al­ters va­cant land tax

Mil rate out of the equa­tion for wa­ter and sewer tax­a­tion on apart­ment build­ings

The Compass - - Front page - ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

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.”

Costly apart­ments

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

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/TC ME­DIA

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.

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