Pro­gram phase out the proper route

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - NEWS - W. BRICE MCVICAR

City staff, ap­par­ently, don’t have enough on their plates.

That’s the only rea­son­able ex­pla­na­tion for a mo­tion ap­proved at Mon­day’s meet­ing that could see some poor schmuck at city hall tasked with re­view­ing prop­erty in­spec­tion re­ports and mar­ket­ing ven­tures by lo­cal land­lords look­ing to rent va­cant prop­erty. The mo­tion was tied to what, ul­ti­mately, is a smart move: phas­ing out the va­cant build­ing re­bate. The re­bate al­lows land­lords of va­cant build­ings and units to ap­ply for a ba­sic tax cut be­cause they can’t rent, lease or sell their unit.

Dur­ing this week’s coun­cil meet­ing coun­cil was given the chance to scrap the pro­gram, leave it as is or phase it out over two years. Coun­cil did the right thing asked for a re­port on phas­ing it out, but also tight­en­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity and hav­ing ap­pli­cants prove they’re try­ing their best to have their prop­erty sold or rented.

Yes, scrap the pro­gram, but don’t throw more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at staff who, it can be ar­gued, prob­a­bly aren’t re­ally au­thor­i­ties on proper mar­ket­ing ef­forts. It seems a bit ridicu­lous to have some staffer scrolling through Ki­jiji or check­ing lo­cal ‘for rent’ ads to make sure land­lords are do­ing what land­lords should be do­ing.

What land­lords shouldn’t be do­ing is get­ting a tax break be­cause a build­ing is va­cant. Coun. Mitch Pan­ciuk hit the nail on its head when he told coun­cil the pro­gram is be­ing sub­si­dized “on the backs of res­i­den­tial tax­pay­ers.”

What in­cen­tive do some of the slum land­lords around the city have to try and find ten­ants when the city’s will­ing to cut them a break on their prop­erty taxes? The pro­gram, which has been around for years, is flawed and should have been scrapped ages ago.

Jill Ray­croft, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer for the lo­cal cham­ber of com­merce, ar­gued dif­fer­ently with coun­cil, but the pro­gram cer­tainly looks like an in­cen­tive for land­lords to just shrug off needed re­pairs, etc... and al­low the re­bate to roll in.

Scrap the pro­gram. If coun­cil’s go­ing to phase it out, that’s fine, but in the in­terim don’t leave it to some­one at city hall to de­ter­mine if an ap­pro­pri­ate ef­fort is be­ing made in rent­ing or sell­ing. • Belleville’s not the first mu­nic­i­pal­ity to de­cide, as well, an in­tegrity com­mis­sioner may not be a bad idea. While the po­si­tion hasn’t been cre­ated, a by­law to cre­ate one has had its first read­ing.

While some may ar­gue it’s an­other level of bu­reau­cracy the idea does have its mer­its. Hav­ing an in­de­pen­dent po­si­tion to, es­sen­tially, keep coun­cil in line isn’t such a bad thing. We’ve just had an ex­am­ple here in Belleville — Mayor Taso Christo­pher’s re­cent le­gal woes — where, per­haps, an in­tegrity com­mis­sioner could have stepped in and pre­vented things from go­ing south.

Ac­count­abil­ity is a ma­jor fac­tor in pol­i­tics and if this po­si­tion will en­sure it ex­ists it can’t be all bad.

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