Views on tax reform, part 1

The debate on downtown, the future of Halifax, and taxes (oh taxes) continues on my Facebook and to a lesser degree on this blog. Ah Facebook, if only you had an API that talked to WordPress, you would be perfect.

I have said before that I was against the proposed flat tax model of “reform”, defeated recently at HRM council. I have not yet really spoken up about what I think would work, a daunting task.

John Wesley posted a link to a study done by Andrew J Murphy on the current tax system, posted on Councilor Dawn Sloanes site. I have linked to it here. This really got me thinking about options.

Then today, the CBC reported again on the elimination in $3 million in spending in 2009/10 from downtown, and Bernie Smith of the Spring Garden Road business association talked about how the rural and suburban councilors do not see the benefit in spending downtown. He said that really downtown needs $50 million over ten years to make it competitive and increase its value and thus the taxes it contributes.

Lets look at how taxes work now. According to Murphy, HRM generates about $435 million in property taxes. About $157 million is commercial tax, the rest residential. The single largest tax bill, by district, goes to Downtown, which generates $47.2 million in taxes, $35 million in commerical. Burnside, a part of Albro Lake/Harbourview, generates $34.2 million, 27.9 million in commercial. The average is far less, about $18.9 million.

Seems to me that if downtown and Burnside generate so much tax, that BOTH commercial areas are right – they deserve far more support. Burnside wants sidewalks, power buried, general improvements. Seems appropriate to me. Downtown needs $5million a year? That is not so much when it generates $47!

So how to make it fair? Take street improvement and commercial district decisions, and put them at the Community Council level. Give each council 15-25% of the commercial taxes generated in its area, and let them manage it themselves.

Take the regional council right out of it.

This would give peninsula Halifax $8.1-10.8 million that could be directed to downtown, Spring Garden, Hydrostones, Kempt Road, and Quinpool.

This would give old Dartmouth $4.8-6.42 million for Burnside, Downtown, Main Street, bridge plaza.

More local control through community councils seems essential. Next post, I will talk about how to address residential taxes.

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