PARRSBORO - Town council has increased its 2012 tax exemption and requirements for low-income residential property owners, although two councilors argued that they did not go far enough.
Council set its tax exemption at $325, up $75 from last year's $250 exemption, for those with a maximum income level of $16,500, up from $16,000. Coun. David Howe pressed council to increase the exemption to $500 and the maximum income level to $17,000, and Coun. Dawn McCully backed him up on the $500 exemption.
"I think we can afford it, and I think it's the right thing to do," said Howe. "If we're ever going to do it, this is the year, because we have a windfall because our assessments have gone up."
Howe's motion did not hit the floor because the previous motion to approve the $325 exemption and $16,500 maximum income level was approved, with councilors David Harrison and Lisa Ward voting in favour and Mayor Lois Smith joining them to cast the deciding vote.
Howe argued that many seniors, in particular, have significantly low incomes, with average Old Age Security benefits at $508. Others live on $500 per month in social security, he said, with many not being able to afford their medications, and about 20 families are using the food bank regularly.
"Although the average inflation rate is three per cent over the last year, food inflation is something like 15 per cent," said Howe. "Some of these people on low incomes, pretty much all they can afford is food, so inflation for them is considerably more."
While he recognized that increasing the maximum income level substantially could have possible adverse effects on the town's bottom line, he thought his proposed increase would be manageable.
"If we increased the $250 to $500 for eight people, that's an extra $2,000 we would lose, which, with 700 houses, would be $3 per house," said Howe. "So, what wouldn't make any difference to the standard to the standard of living to people like us would make a huge difference to the most needy people."
McCully said she agreed with Howe because, "if we can help the needy in our town, I think we should."
Ward argued that increasing the exemption to $325 and the maximum income level to $16,500 was a good start that could hopefully be continued in future years.
"I don't think it has anything to do with not wanting to help the needy in our town, because we're doing that by giving an increase," she said.
Smith agreed with Ward and CAO Ray Hickey, who recommended a gradual approach due to not knowing the impact of what a large increase in one shot would have.
Although assessments on properties in the town have increased this year, the mayor said they expect many of the assessments will be appealed, leaving the revenue picture unclear.
"I agree people absolutely are having some hard times, but help comes from other sources as well," said the mayor. "I think a gradual increase like we have done over the years... I'm quite comfortable with the way it is suggested. I would like to be able to give $1,000 a month, but we are running a town and we have to be able to represent all 1,400 people in it."
The new exemption and maximum income level will be advertised, and forms will be available at town hall.