Rate relief?

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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At-large candidate advocates taxing 'brown baggers'

Relief could be coming for St. John's residents anxious over inflamed property assessments.

According to the second and final survey of the St. John's Board of Trade's municipal issues campaign, a majority of candidates running in the Sept. 29 election favour dropping the mill rate to soften the blow of increased assessments.

The mill rate is used to tax properties. It is currently 11 for residential dwellings and 17.2 for commercial sites.

As many discovered last week, appraised property values in St. John's have spiked - with residential estimates climbing 20 per cent on average and commercial evaluations jumping 25 per cent, according to the city's assessment office.

Relief could be coming for St. John's residents anxious over inflamed property assessments.

According to the second and final survey of the St. John's Board of Trade's municipal issues campaign, a majority of candidates running in the Sept. 29 election favour dropping the mill rate to soften the blow of increased assessments.

The mill rate is used to tax properties. It is currently 11 for residential dwellings and 17.2 for commercial sites.

As many discovered last week, appraised property values in St. John's have spiked - with residential estimates climbing 20 per cent on average and commercial evaluations jumping 25 per cent, according to the city's assessment office.

Some saw the value of their homes and buildings soar by as much as 60 or 70 per cent.

The increases have many praying the new council will lower the mill rate when it does the 2010 budget in December so their tax bill doesn't balloon at the same percentage as their appraisal.

The Board of Trade survey indicates that could happen.

Conducted as assessments were being mailed out, it polled candidates on whether they supported adjusting mill rates to mitigate an increase in assessed property values.

Nineteen of the 32 stumping for a council seat said yes.

Another 12 answered "it depends," a response indicating they'd back reducing the rate if it made sense.

Only one candidate, Stephen Nolan, said no.

The councillor at-large contender told The Telegram he believes homeowners want to pay what's fair and have no qualms about paying taxes based on assessed values in exchange for services.

However, while Nolan doesn't support minimizing the mill rate to ease the impact of assessments, he likes the idea of lowering the rate through charging so-called "brown baggers" - non-residents who work in the city - a payroll tax for using St. John's roads, water and other services.

"We are the capital city," he said. "We have thousands of people coming into the capital city who are using the services who pay absolutely nothing. So the burden of fixing the roads, the burden of making sure that the water is at a certain level, whatever, is placed upon the people of St. John's. In my mind, that's not entirely fair."

Art Puddister, the incumbent in Ward 1 and a member of the city's finance committee, supported a mill rate adjustment.

When asked why, he said if the rate stayed as is, the city would have "a surplus or cash grab of about $12.3 million."

"My attitude is, we've got to get most of that back into the pockets of the residential home owners and commercial property owners," he said.

Based on his number-crunching, Puddister said he would like to lower both mill rates by 1.25 per cent.

He figured that would rebate about $11 million to taxpayers.

Mayoral candidate Mark Wilson said he responded "it depends" because he feels the mill rate/assessment issue needs to be examined within different contexts, including its social and economic effects.

He'd like to see discussion and dialogue.

"My point of view is that we can't tax people out of their family homes, and this is a gentrification issue within the city," he said. At the same time, he acknowledged the city's new-found prosperity and the need to "invest intelligently" in things like sidewalk snow-removal machines and road repairs.

Appraisals are done on three-year cycles, independent of council, by the city's assessment office.

Properties will be taxed on the new values from 2010-12.

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: St. John's Board of Trade, The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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