Hunter favours scrapping assessment cap

Darrell Cole
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Study not about lost revenue, but fairness

Cumberland County's warden is hoping a tax study leads to scrapping what he calls an unfair assessment system.

Cumberland County's warden, Keith Hunter, is hoping a tax study leads to scrapping what he calls an unfair assessment system.

AMHERST – Officials with Cumberland County’s two largest municipalities are welcoming a report that suggests scrapping the province’s cap on property assessments.

Both Cumberland County Warden Keith Hunter and Amherst CAO Greg Herrett said the existing cap system put in place in 2005 is not working because it’s unfair.

“This report is something that has been needed for a long time,” Hunter said. “The cap is not fair because it places the tax burden on those who can least afford to pay it.”

The cap was brought in by the former government John Hamm to control escalating property values, especially in places were assessments were soaring like in Chester.

The study – released by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the Association of Municipal Administrators and the Property Valuation Services Corporation – was done to evaluate the effectiveness of the current property tax system in Nova Scotia and suggest improvements.

Hunter said he understands why the cap was put in place, adding there were cases along the Northumberland shore in the Wallace to Tatamagouche area where property values were soaring, making it difficult for long-term residents to afford the taxes.

However, he said, the system is not working because it treats property owners differently. That makes it unfair.

“It’s not working,” Hunter said. “You can have two houses on the same street paying two different tax rates. One could be capped but the other one would have no cap because it’s just been sold. It makes no sense.”

While Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it’s all about increasing tax revenue for municipal units, Herrett said the system is inequitable.

“The issue is about the inequities in the system,” Herrett said. “Municipal units are not looking for a big windfall, we just want the fairness issue addressed and this study does that.”

Herrett said there are other variables at play including the UNSM’s towns task force and the municipal financial condition index that are giving a snapshot of how communities are doing.

The Amherst CAO said 78 per cent of the town’s residential properties are capped. While at one time towns like Amherst talked about how much lost revenue that represented, he said they have stopped talking about it because the town’s issue with the cap system is more about the inequities that exist within it.

“It’s not about revenue, it’s about fairness. You could have two houses next to each other which are both worth the same amount, but because one was sold in the last year the cap is removed and the property owner pays the full taxable assessment while the other remains capped. There’s something just not fair about that.”

The independent study completed by Dr. Enid Slack and Harry Kitchen examined many areas of the municipal tax system and came up with seven recommendations – one of which was to maintain the market value property assessment as the municipal tax base.

The study has been passed over to the provincial government for consideration.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

Organizations: Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, Association of Municipal Administrators, Property Valuation Services

Geographic location: Cumberland County, Chester, Nova Scotia Northumberland Tatamagouche

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Recent comments

  • Ed Chitty
    June 07, 2014 - 09:37

    They have been studying the property tax system for the last 200 yrs looking for fairness and will be looking without success for the next 200 yrs. It is a regressive tax ( the shabbier your property looks the less you pay in taxes ). If the federal and provincial governments believed that property tax was fair, they would use that model?. If the people in power were truly looking for a fair and equitable tax, they would find a way to including municipal governments on our income forms along with the provincial and federal governments. Looking for fairness in the property tax system is like trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear.

  • Doug.P
    June 02, 2014 - 08:14

    Not more than a few weeks ago they patted themselves on the back for "holding the line on taxes" with the budget. Now, with not even a second thought, they are actively promoting raising taxes thought cancelling the capped system. Meet what every person must become in office to satay in office: two faced liars. Everyone should be paying a capped rate or even lower out of fairness. But that kind of fairness does not suit their greedy ambitions.

  • Joanne MacPherson
    May 30, 2014 - 06:52

    I say we should scrap Keith Hunter and municipal council. We are just not inconvenienced by the few things within their power to control, and it is getting too expensive propping them up.

  • mr.p.oed
    May 29, 2014 - 11:08

    Who does the assesments? A company from Halifax......Try and get the price out of your home its assesed at. A$ 50.000 home here would be a $150.000 home in Halifax. If we wanted to be fair shouldn't a local company do the assesments. and base it on the real value,not what you would pay in the city?

  • Beryl Atkinson
    May 28, 2014 - 13:57

    My understanding of capped assessments were to help alleviate the rising taxes for those residents who could not afford the continued rising taxes, key words could not. If we are going to talk fairness I don't think it's fair a farmer with a large acreage and a big house a double car garage can be assessed at cents per hundred of assessment and yet homeowners are assessed at 1.00+ per hundred??? I'm not against a farmer but this is a profession he/she has chosen, so why do they get so many handouts and government breaks while the middle income continue to find dollars for the next tax bill. I think Mr Hunter if you approve of scrapping the capped assessment you may as well retire now.

    • Doug.P
      May 29, 2014 - 09:51

      Why look at it backwards like that? Why aren't you paying what a farmer pays? Why isn't everyone? Why are you being fleeced by, crooks , liars and scam artists? Just because you are being robed blind does mean your fellow man needs to be robed blind too out of "fairness"? It is immoral to call for such things. Our political schools make darn sure you never think of it this way either, even though it is the correct way to view it.

  • Roger LeBlanc
    May 28, 2014 - 08:52

    And you wonder why people leave to go out west.... Keep raising the taxes and we will be following in the steps of New Brunswick and be broke in 10 years because people are leaving to go out west. Just look around houses are empty all over. Open your eyes people personally I think it time for Mr. Hunter to retire because all he is looking for is to remove the cap so he can justify his wage increase and bonus.....

  • Realistic
    May 25, 2014 - 07:33

    I would agree that this cap business is unfair. It is a smoke & mirrors house of cards. Do away with it, IF you will also reduce the resultant tax rates. Funny how there was not one mention of RATES in this article or how they would or could be affected.

  • Robin
    May 24, 2014 - 13:05

    Just what those of us in the middle to low middle and lower incomes need!! It's hard enough trying to meet the price of NSPI and furnace oil, to pay for groceries that seem to increase in cost monthly, I'd just love to pay more property taxes on top of everything else! UGH! Where's the sarcastic button for this comment? I expect getting rid of the cap would cause more appeals of over - assessed properties.

  • Jim G
    May 24, 2014 - 12:26

    In order to request elected officials to enact tax laws that are what we will call equitable, everyone has to understand how property tax collection was designed to work. The municipalities such as the towns determine a budget annually which includes an operating budget and a capital budget. The operating component is for annual expenses and the capital part is for project costs for assets that will provide a useful life over a number of years. Of course the capital part has an annual charge to it. When a town (or municipality) increases their budget in a year they will charge and collect more tax. The property tax assessments (set by the assessors based on actual values supposedly) and the mill rate (set by the towns) are multiplied together to arrive at the propery tax you will pay. One counciler was advertising the fact that because the mill rate was not increased that the town had not increased taxes. Or, maybe they did not increase the mill rate but the assessed values increased. In either the case the polition advertised the town had not increased taxes but in effect everyone's taxes had gone up. If you asked this person about the tax increase this person would say to you that the town did not increase taxes and of course this is not true. Don't believe me, look back in the Daily News site and find the article. It is true that a lot of towns and cities in Canada have increased taxes by keeping their mill rates the same while property values have skyrocketed and the excess cash flowing in is totally irresponsible. For the most part Nova Scotia does not have a hugh problem but it is still a problem especially in specific areas where values have increased a lot in short periods of time. The caps will work for a year or two and then results in odd problems where you pay twice as much tax as your neighbour even though you may use less public services. Under this tax system there should be no cap. If your value has increased you are fortunate because when you sell it even if it is after your death you will have an increase in your wealth and technically there should be no tax break. It is a challenge on what to do about this. Maybe the property tax collected could be capped a maximum of say 5% in any one year and the difference between what the owner should pay and the capped amount would be recorded as a deferred charge on the owner's tax account and paid when the property is sold. This way the cash requirement of the homeowner is not effected but when the property is sold it is paid to the town. It is just an idea. Anyone else have an idea? Remember, if the town operating budget increases by 3% they will collect 3% more from town residents and like usual, everyone hopes their neighbour will pay 4% so they themselves pay 2%. Residential verses commercial tax rates is one example.

  • Ed Hannigan
    May 23, 2014 - 15:07

    When was a politician concerned about fairness ? This is all about getting More tax revenue . Yes, the system managed by PVSC is inequitable. To date ,they are not about competent MVA assessment,but more about acting as tax collectors to get the total assessed value for the county to a place where the Council can avoid raising the tax getting re-elected.

  • wingman
    May 23, 2014 - 12:57

    It's only fair to the people with lots of money not the ones on a fixed income like most seniors. It's time to start speaking up and say enough is enough.

    • Amherst
      May 25, 2014 - 19:11

      Its not fair for the people with money to pay high taxes either..everyone should pay the same taxes, rich or pool.

  • Pugwasher
    May 23, 2014 - 11:10

    It is certainly easier for politicians to take off the cap and use the extra monies to spend it on whatever. Personally I think they should use their brains to simply tighten the budget. A number of seniors on fixed incomes could simply not afford this extra outlay of monies.

  • Doug.P
    May 23, 2014 - 10:06

    "Hunter said he understands why the cap was put in place, adding there were cases along the Northumberland shore in the Wallace to Tatamagouche area where property values were soaring, making it difficult for long-term residents to afford the taxes."...So by Mr. Hunters words, unchecked political greed is what brought the capped system into place in the first place and it looks like that same boundless greed will have it scrapped so that the office holders can expropriate at will. This is criminal behavior in office. I can not say it any other way.

  • Doug.P
    May 23, 2014 - 09:31

    You have to love politicians, even they don't even know sometimes the caliber of nonsense they spew. Contrary to our "leaders" say this is about raising taxes, not about fairness at all. Laugh at anyone who claims the opposite. Governments, local, provincial , and federal are teetering on the brink of financial collapse due to their corruption. Why such a concern for fairness now? Fair would be everyone paying a "capped assessment" or even lower. The assessment system is a crony system from top to bottom at any rate, most citizens know this. Need more tax revenue? manipulate the assessments or rates in your favor and claim "fairness". But as I have already stated, this is about grabbing at quick ways to loot the public, and removing the capped assessment is an easy apple to pick. With Cape Breton, itself the shining example of amalgamation and its failure, is as we speak heading over the falls. Next up Halifax. Mr. Hunter, the days of deficits don't matter and just borrow more are coming to a close. Justice is served when the corrupt can no longer lie, cheat and threaten their way out of it.

    May 23, 2014 - 09:04