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.