‘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.”


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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