Sidney council approved a package of tax relief measures that generated broad support from councillors but also a warning that they won’t help the right people at the right time as the municipality deals with the effects of COVID-19.
Council voted 6-1, with Coun. Peter Wainwright opposed, to reduce the general property tax increase for all properties to zero, while giving owners of commercial and light industrial properties a 10 per cent break on their taxes for an average annual savings of $2,800 in property taxes, $100 less than previously announced following the receipt of new financial information from the province. This municipal relief, coupled with other measures, will see local business owners get a total break of 22.5 per cent break, just shy of the 25 per cent goal that the province had announced earlier this month following changes.
Councillors had previously approved the broad measures of the relief package during a special council meeting by a 5-2 majority. The rapid pace of developments brought new facts forward when they met again Monday, including new financial data from the provincial government, announcements by senior governments to subsidize the wages of employees and the rents of their employers, and above all, public input from Sidney residents.
This input showed broad support for the proposed measures, and Coun. Sara Duncan cited this input in switching her vote towards supporting the measures, joining Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith as well as Couns. Barbara Fallot, Scott Garnett, Terri O’Keeffe and Chad Rintoul.
But she used the occasion to say that the proposed measures still make her “nervous” in repeating concerns about the municipality’s financial ability to recover from the economic effects of this pandemic as well as other looming crises. Duncan also raised concerns about the municipality having to raise taxes in the future. Also looming is a review of municipal expenditures.
Reiterating his earlier opposition, Wainwright said the municipality should do its parts in helping businesses. But he also noted that the proposed package applies to all businesses regardless of size and place of incorporation. “It is not going to the ones who need it the most,” he said. He also wondered whether Sidney’s relief will be timely in arguing that local businesses need relief now, not later. Additional support from senior spheres of government funded through income rather property tax relief would be more effective, he said.
Perhaps sensing this unease, McNeil-Smith said in his remarks that staff are comfortable with the available means for not only dealing with the immediate effects of the pandemic, but also the recovery effort in raising the spectre of additional stimulus. He also noted that businesses must first make a profit before they can pay income taxes in making the case for a broad array of relief, pointing to provincial and federal measures.
“All of these supports are important and they are needed at this time,” he said.
It is important to note that Sidney’s decision to reduce the general tax increase to zero does not mean that Sidney residents won’t pay higher taxes. While the municipal share of the overall tax bill accounting for about 50 per cent of the total tax bill will be about the same as it was in 2019, residents will still see their tax bill rise by about $85 because of tax increases by other jurisdictions, such as the province for schools.
Council also delayed the penalty dates for unpaid taxes, a move that gives property owners more time to pay their tax bill. The five per cent penalty date for residential properties shifts from July 3 to Aug. 1, while the penalty date for commercial properties shifts from July 3 to Oct. 1. A second five per cent penalty date for both residential and commercial properties shifts to Dec. 15.
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