PARRSBORO – An effort to create a more appealing tax rate for Parrsboro was given poor marks by much of the large crowd gathered into council chambers on June 24.
Several property owners, angrily waving their tax bills, demanded explanations for dramatic increases and pleaded with council to reconsider its decision to remove the costs of fire protection and street lighting from the general tax rate and bill them as separate fees.
Former councillor Lloyd Smith said a taxpayer would have to have a property assessed at more than $92,000 to receive a break under the new system, and suggested the majority of residents would fall short of that mark.
“I think the numbers are very low on tax accounts that would receive a break, and very high on people that would pay more,” he said. “I don’t believe council looked after the majority of the people that put you in your seats to start with.”
The reason for the change in tax billing, which saw the residential rate drop 19 cents to $1.80 per $100 of assessment, was to make Parrsboro more appealing to someone looking to build a new home or start a new business, according to Coun. David Harrison, who said they looked at what other municipalities such as Halifax are doing.
“We want people to come to town, and we want people to build new houses,” he said. “All we hear is that nobody is moving here because of the tax rate, tax rate, tax rate.”
While the average property assessment in Parrsboro is $58,000, Hickey explained that new homes are assessed high no matter where they are built, meaning essentially that someone who builds a $200,000 home in Parrsboro would be paying four times as much tax as the average property owner.
These explanations were small consolation for those property owners with vacant lots, some of whom saw hikes of more than 100 per cent to their tax bills. One lady said her lot has cost only $89 per year in taxes for many years, and suddenly is now being billed for $252 per year.
Harold Logan spoke on behalf of his son, who owns a vacant lot in the Riverside area, and saw his annual tax bill rise from $98 to $261, plus an additional $200 just because the town sewer system runs in front of the lot.
“You say you want to bring people back to town, and now you tell this young fellow, ‘OK, you have a vacant lot over there, it’s only going to cost you $461 a year,’” said Logan. “It might be 20 years before he builds on that.”
Mary-Irene Parker questioned the practice of billing a vacant lot the same $125 for fire protection that a property with a dwelling is billed, but was most critical about how the changes in billing were communicated.
“Possibly some of these problems and the ire have come to the fore are due to the fact the information was surreptitiously handled in the fact that it came when you got your tax bill,” said Parker. “It’s not a good showing on council and the mayor to have it come out in that manner.”
While there was lobbying from the crowd for council to reverse its decision, there was no movement from council in that regard. The mayor admitted, however, that the whole thing might have been a mistake.
“In hindsight, yes, we should have left the tax rate as it was, or perhaps increased the tax rate,” she said. “As Ray explained, we have to cover costs to operate the town, and we do apologize if there was some confusion.”
Hickey pointed out that, since 2011, measures have been taken by council to reduce the tax rate, resulting in “overall savings for almost every resident in town.” He also said that the town is not taking in more revenue as a result of the change in billing.
Arlene Canning said she owns four properties in town, none of which are assessed at over the $92,000 mark, and all are seeing hikes of $200-300 in taxes this year.
Canning, who lives in Parrsboro and travels to Amherst for work, said it is getting harder and harder to live here.
“I love Parrsboro, everyone here loves Parrsboro and wants to support it,” she said. “But no one can afford to live here at this rate.”