Commercial property tax reform coming to Halifax soon

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If you’re waiting for commercial property tax reform in Halifax, keep waiting.

The province gave the city new taxing authority in 2015, but negotiations have been ongoing since 2017.

Although several options for change were investigated Tuesday at a special meeting of council, municipal finance officials only made one recommendation on Tuesday.

The recommendation was to average commercial tax bills that increase more than five per cent over a three-year period to allow people time to adjust.

“Averaging applies to all business, small and large,” said Bruce Fisher, the municipality’s manager of tax policy.

Councillors liked to see the averaging policy, but wanted to see more.

“The recommendation to average is not enough, it’s not nearly enough,” said Coun. Shawn Cleary when asked.

Coun. Sam Austin asked finance officials for a followup report on his idea to combine a couple of options — tiered assessment rates along with the creation of five new commercial zones.

“It’d be like income tax, you don’t pay until a certain amount,” said Austin. “At a certain amount of income you’re paying a different percentage and the percentage goes up as the income goes up.”

“It’s the first chunk of assessment where you’d get the lowest bang for the buck.”

5 new commercial zones

The five new commercial zones would be high density, industrial, big box, small-medium enterprise and rural.

Austin’s motion was unanimously approved.

Halifax’s chief administrative officer warned councillors about creating an overly complex tax system.

“Keep in mind if you have five zones, you could end up with 30 different tax rates,” said Jacques Dubé.

Fisher noted the proposal on averaging may not work with Austin’s hybrid suggestion without further legislative changes approved by the province.

But the heads of two business districts are happy the tax reform conversation is continuing.

“If they leave it at three-year averaging, it really does nothing,” said Sue Uteck, the executive director of the Spring Garden Road Business Commission. “The current tax system is unsustainable.”

“We wanted to see more done,” said Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission. “Where it’s going to go from here is a bit nebulous, but we’re pleased that council made that choice.”

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