An all-party committee reviewing a proposal to eliminate capped property assessments in Nova Scotia has wrapped up a series of meetings without making a decision, saying more information is needed before it will consider the recommendations.
“I have concerns about the immediate impact,” said Tim Houston, leader of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party. “People are afraid.”
The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities has proposed phasing the cap out, and hosted three sessions of the committee over the past week.
As the meetings wrapped up Monday, the Liberal member on the committee said the changes need to be considered.
“There have been unintended consequences,” said Keith Irving, the MLA for Kings South. “We need to ensure better fairness throughout the system.”
The cap has been in place since 2005. The current version, which ties annual assessment increases to the consumer price index, was adopted to prevent people from being taxed out of their homes because of sudden spikes in property assessments, particularly along waterfronts in rural areas.
Some municipal leaders maintain the cap is distorting the assessment system and hurting more people than it helps. Last week, the all-party committee heard presentations from a number of groups that support eliminating the cap.
The Investment Property Owners of Nova Scotia pointed out that the cap does not apply to apartment buildings, so the costs are being passed on to tenants.
“Currently, the cap is negatively impacting rent between $7 and $16 per month,” said executive director Kevin Russell.
The president of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce said his members also feel unfairly targeted by the cap.
“It’s simply shifting the tax burden to individuals not covered or businesses,” said Patrick Sullivan.
However, a representative of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons spoke out against eliminating the cap.
“We are very, very concerned,” said Ron Swan. “Eliminating the cap will cause hardships for seniors.”
Larry Haiven is also worried. He represents Schmidtville, a downtown Halifax neighbourhood that was recently designated a heritage community.
“All taxes have some inequality,” said Haiven, “The solution should not be worse than the complaint.”
Cecil Clarke, the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, was one of three municipal leaders who spoke in favour of phasing out the cap.
“The people who can afford it the least are now paying the most,” said Clarke.
But the mayor of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg argued in favour of keeping it in place.
“This protection was needed in 2005 and it is still needed today,” said Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, who was a cabinet minister at the time the Tories introduced the legislation.
The way the controversial issue is being handled was also the subject of scrutiny among the committee members. Lisa Roberts, the NDP’s municipal affairs critic, said all-party collaboration is a rare occurrence.
“We have the impression that the government is asking for all-party support to basically provide political cover for the government,” she said.
The president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, Pam Mood, said her organization will try to gather the information requested by the all-party committee before the next meeting. Despite division among the presenters, Mood said she remains optimistic.
“We’re all sitting at the same table, so that’s a huge step forward,” she said.
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