‘Fix it, lease it or sell it’

City mov­ing to cut off ben­e­fits that al­low prop­er­ties to re­main va­cant

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - FRONT PAGE - JA­SON MILLER

The city is mov­ing to cut off ben­e­fits to in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial prop­erty own­ers who get tax re­bates for va­cant units.

Since 2014 the city fielded 354 ap­pli­ca­tions and was asked to dis­pense just over $1 mil­lion to prop­erty own­ers who have va­can­cies in com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial build­ings. The afore­men­tioned fig­ure only rep­re­sents the city’s share.

“The ma­jor­ity of the ap­pli­ca­tions are for com­mer­cial va­cant prop­er­ties with an av­er­age of only two in­dus­trial ap­pli­ca­tions per year be­ing pro­cessed,” a re­port to coun­cil shows.

Coun. Paul Carr, who cam­paigned for an over­haul, had a mes­sage for prop­erty own­ers who cap­i­tal­ized on va­cant unit re­bates.

“Fix it, lease it or sell it is the mes­sage we need to send,” he said.

Carr said the in­tent of the pro­gram was to pro­vide fi­nan­cial re­lief, be­fore point­ing to the high va­cancy rate on Front Street.

“I don’t want to say we have a chronic prob­lem, but we cer­tainly have an ongoing is­sue with va­can­cies in com­mer­cial busi­nesses,” he said.

“The way things get done has to change,” said Carr, lob­by­ing for coun­cil to get rid of the re­bate. “I think it is all or noth­ing, and ba­si­cally take the re­bate pro­gram away.”

Coun Jackie Denyes was baf­fled by the com­pen­sa­tion awarded to own­ers and ques­tioned their in­cen­tive to ac­tively fill the va­can­cies.

“I don’t un­der­stand what the im­pe­tus would be if we just keep giv­ing them re­bates for hav­ing va­cant units,” Denyes said.

Trea­surer Brian Cousins said un­til now when the province has given mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties more free­dom to man­age con­tri­bu­tions to the pro­gram, which was a manda­tory pro­gram es­tab­lished in 1998. That is soon to change. “The province is now mov­ing for­ward with pro­vid­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties broad flex­i­bil­ity for 2017 and fu­ture years,” the Cousins-au­thored re­port in­di­cates. The city will soon be able to tai­lor its con­tri­bu­tion to the pro­gram as it pleases.

Coun­cil will be pre­sented a slate of op­tions, one of which may be a staff rec­om­men­da­tion to wipe out the pro­gram this year.

“You can go all and done in one year,” he said. Cousins sug­gested talk­ing to those to be im­pacted be­fore picking a route.

Prop­er­ties have to be va­cant for 90 con­sec­u­tive days to qual­ify. The cur­rent re­bate is 30 per cent of the prop­erty tax for com­mer­cial and 35 per cent for va­cant in­dus­trial ad­dresses.

Coun. Eger­ton Boyce balked at the fact it is “paid for on the backs of the res­i­den­tial (tax levy) pro­gram.”

“We heard from the BDIA re­cently, 25 build­ings are va­cant,” said Boyce, of the re­port from the Belleville Down­town Im­prove­ment Area. “I don’t know how many of those are col­lect­ing this, but I’m sure that there some (from the 109 (ap­pli­cants in 2016) who are ask­ing for it.”

Change is long over­due, said Boyce.

“It’s about time that this is oc­cur­ring,” he said.

Jack Miller gave anec­do­tal ref­er­ences to why peo­ple may be un­will­ing to ac­cept the new rules.

“I’ve had one land owner who told me flat out, I don’t care that my build­ing is empty be­cause the re­bates,” he said, adding the owner said he’s prefers do­ing that than mak­ing a ma­jor cap­i­tal in­vest­ment.

Miller said eco­nom­ics is some­times a bar­rier for some own­ers, so he wants to take into con­sid­er­a­tion those sce­nar­ios and of­fer some flex­i­bil­ity to cre­ate that kind of pol­icy.

Staff said coun­cil will be able to ad­dress it case by case, but the province will dic­tate the vi­a­bil­ity of the city’s pro­posal.

“We will send this on to the province and the province could say yay or nay,” Cousins. “This is the start of the process.”

JA­SON MILLER/THE INTELLIGENCER

Coun. Jack Miller looks on while Coun. Paul Carr lob­bies for the city to get rid of tax re­bates to com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial prop­erty own­ers who have va­cant units.

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