Frustration turns to anger

Daniel MacEachern
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Businesses unhappy with tax hike should have appealed assessments, mayor says

St. John’s business owners unhappy with their tax loads should have appealed their property assessments, says the mayor.

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe. — Telegram file photo

With business owners and organizations lining up to condemn the average 21.2 per cent increase to their tax bills this year, Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said businesses can appeal assessments.

“Just like a residential property owner, just like Dennis O’Keefe — if my property is assessed at a value I feel is too high, I should appeal it and see where that appeal takes me,” said O’Keefe. “The individual is quite welcome to contact the assessor and come in to city hall. The doors are open. Sit down with the assessor, and the assessor will take the individual through the process as to how the assessment value was arrived at.”

When pointed out by The Telegram that the appeal deadline has passed, and asked if property owners have any recourse left, O’Keefe said owners should have been aware of the appeal process.

“It’s quite public that this process is in place and it goes out with the notices,” he said. “The only avenue now that might be available would be for the individual to contact the assessment department and speak to the assessor to see if the assessment was correctly arrived at.”

That’s not good enough for business owners such as Jason Brake, owner of Blue on Water, who said O’Keefe and councillors have been unresponsive to business concerns because they’re hoping to ride out the criticism.

“They’re waiting for the storm to blow over, but it’s not blowing over because it’s gaining momentum,” he said. “In their minds, they think it was OK to raise taxes … by 21 per cent.”

It’s the size of the tax increase that’s the problem, said Brake.

“Besides being dismissive, what (O’Keefe) does is he deflects,” he said. “The mayor starts talking about assessments, he starts talking about mill rates, and he completely misses the point. The point is that there’s a bunch of business owners downtown and all over St. John’s that are now subject to a massive increase, and he never ever addresses that. He always skirts the issue.”

Brake also said pre-budget consultations done by the city were a waste of time.

“None of the public ever said that tax increases of this size were OK,” he said. “So ultimately the city comes out with a budget that is the complete opposite of what people wanted, so in effect, all of these forums they held … this was all a waste of money because they never listened to anything.”

Frustration in the business community has turned to anger, said Brake.

“They didn’t have a revenue problem. They have a spending problem,” he said. “They’re spending like drunken sailors.”, Twitter: @DanMacEachern

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Recent comments

  • steve
    January 24, 2016 - 12:28

    Election is coming.Toss the lot especially that Mayor. Start a campaign ABD anyone but Dennis and ask all counsellors to agree to roll back all increases or get tossed.

  • Glenn Stockley
    January 24, 2016 - 08:42

    please check out my FB page...great video coming this afternoon...blessing and respect

  • shorty
    January 23, 2016 - 13:54

    It will be interesting to see the outcome of the next municipal elections. I hope people have long memories. I know that I, for one, will not be voting for either of the current yahoos. Doc sure is turning out to be quite the tyrant.

  • Markus
    January 23, 2016 - 13:31

    O'Keefe needs to go. The city spends like a bunch of drunken sailors and don't seem to have the sense to stop. Look at ways to save money before you increase taxes.

  • james
    January 23, 2016 - 11:22

    How much does st,john,s collect from the gas tax does anyone know

  • Eric
    January 23, 2016 - 11:03

    I agree with all the comments as I stated yesterday. We have elected individuals who careless about tax increases and the effect they have on business owner and house owner. I said b4 and said it again. Where to you live in this world when the populace elect individuals and then when elected they have the on godly right to increase taxes WITHOUT any consolation. The last time I looked they were called dictators. Another thing where did the city council get all that education to run 315 million budget without consultation professional people who know the budgetary process. Most of the council members are double dipping to support their pensions. Mr Okeefe, mr. Mayor, as you are a former teacher, turn the revere and rather than teach start learning. Your explanation of the assessment process was on real . Typical excuses for the truth. Jason and Bob keep plugging as we house owners have to do. Cheers

  • jerome
    January 23, 2016 - 09:19

    They should have appealed it, was O'Keefe's response, O'Keefe just doesn't get it. A number of years ago , I appealed my assessment, it was a simple process and I won. The next assessment , the process had got a lot more complicated , plus a non-refundable payment, and the general consensus was , our assessment would probably go up., so why bother. But the main problem is the city's overspending, stupid studies that cost us that do nothing, fences around the harbour, coverage of the Team Gushue Highway, overly generous labour contracts, buy land at hugely inflated costs for a development that may never actually happen, and the list goes on. A couple of years ago the Board of Trade said the 8-9% yearly budget increases by the city was unsustainable, O'Keefe says that this year's 4.5% increase isn't bad, but inflation for the last number is less than 2% , this is what the city should be striving for . Like the PC's the city thinks the party would never end , so spend like there is no tomorrow. In 9 years, what I give the city has more than doubled and no end in site for this reckless spending spree. What is going to happen when all of our next assessments go down because of the current state of the economy, the answer will be to up the mill rate. This council has no idea about how to restrain spending and no vision of how taxpayers will be able to afford it. I have never voted in a Municipal election, but that will change for the next one.

  • Taxpayer
    January 23, 2016 - 08:19

    The City's spending is out of control and council's answer is to just keep raising taxes. We need someone like Rob Ford to get us out of this mess.

  • a business man
    January 23, 2016 - 07:06

    I am not happy with the tax increase, and I did appeal my assesement. That said, I also took steps to pass the tax increase onto my employees, and in some cases my customers. For example, in my restaurant, we now operate with three less employees during each hour, and our menu prices have risen. In my call center, vending machine prices when up. In residential housing, I always raise rent to the maximum to offset increased costs in my other businesses. In short, I am unhappy about the tax increase, but I have taken steps to ensure my profitability remains intact. I will always do my best to find someone else to pay. That said, these high taxes will certainly deter businesses from setting up here. I was considering expanding one of my local call centers (which would entail construction and more workers). However, this tax increase has made me consider other jurisdictions. And by considering other jurisdcitions, I am now assessing if the local office should close and move too.

  • Ed
    January 23, 2016 - 06:53

    Well done city councilors, I do believe you along with the worst mayor we have ever had finally managed to irritate the majority of the citizens of St John's. See you at the next election. It's too bad there is no recall process in place.

  • maskedavenger
    January 22, 2016 - 23:49

    Just wondering - How much property tax is Danny paying on Dannyland? Is it based on the same rate that he's charging the city for the land he's making the city buy from him???

  • Jimsers
    January 22, 2016 - 18:31

    Please resign now mayor. You are not up to managing this deamnding city.

  • Edwina Baldwin
    January 22, 2016 - 15:12

    TAX ASSESSMENT BY -LAWS IS NOT DECEMBER MONTH!!!!!I do believe the tax assessment by-laws of St. Johns is September month not December month when life is hectic ....unless they have a good reason ...the last tax assessment was done in Dec.....As far as I am concerned they are pulling the wood over every ones eyes ..I guess what they figure is everyone will miss the deal line and they will have to deal with very few home owners ...NOT GOOD ENOUGH COUNCIL PEOPLE NOT GOOD ENOUGH !!!!!

  • Sparky
    January 22, 2016 - 12:58

    You would think half of them would have resigned by now in embarrassment. Not a word out of any of them, into how they came up with this figure and how they are going to cut back in 2016 or do things differently, I guess they figure if they ignore us we'll all go away. Is there anyone left in the City who hasn't been negatively impacted by this budget and cuts?

  • Time to clean house!
    January 22, 2016 - 12:07

    Eh, yes Robin but in the meantime there's a by-election just weeks away and, so far, can't say I'm impressed with the line-up. Unless someone else signs up, what you're going to get is more of the same. And my guess is fewer than a third of voters will show up at the polls. This is a democracy. If you don't want to use it, then don't complain about the results.

    • Mike Wareham
      January 23, 2016 - 09:05

      If you're not impressed with the line up, why don't you put your name (whatever it is) forward?

    • g b
      g b
      January 24, 2016 - 09:16

      @Mike Wareham Maybe because he doesn't want to? What's your point?

  • Robin Sgroi
    January 22, 2016 - 11:32

    It's too bad that recall elections aren't allowed in NL. The current "leaders" seem insensitive and incompetent to manage in today's economic environment.

  • Dave
    January 22, 2016 - 10:30

    I would love to see ALL the restaurant owners bar O'Keefe and city councillors from All the city restaurants Or at best if they do show up have a one page menu printed for Council that would include the price of menu items marked up by a minimum of 50% with a mandatory 25% gratuity added on. Geez, I would love to be there when O'Keefe or any of his cronies take out a visitor or investor to the city out to lunch or dinner and be either refused entry or the look on their faces when they are sat at the table and get presented with their special menu and pricing. Now that would be priceless and hopefully give those over paid and under worked city councillors a wake up call. Hopefully the private business restaurant owners will try this or some other way to level the playing field.

  • Kev
    January 22, 2016 - 10:22

    Must soon be time for a cruise ship convention in Florida or the Bahamas, Your Worship.... right?

  • Samuel
    January 22, 2016 - 10:12

    Are O'Keefe and Galgay being deliberately obtuse? They are well aware that the city could have brought in a revenue neutral budget by lowering the mil rate however much necessary to offset the average tax increase. Yes, it might mean that some businesses and homeowners might still pay more as a result of circumstances specific to their property (e.g. major upgrading) while others might pay less, but the overall tax take by the city would remain the same. What happened instead is that the mayor and councillors decided to go for it - thinking that, as usual, there'd be a few gripes but most people would simply say 'oh well, you can't beat city hall' and knuckle under. Even though it was a relatively small amount of cash, the arts community showed what can happen when you protest. The business community, particularly in the hard hit downtown, is following suit. Unfortunately the lowly homeowner, who is being hit every bit as hard as business, has no one to stand up for him. The problem is that council long ago lapsed into a mindset where bigger budgets year over year are a God given right - the norm - the expected, and no one ever called them on it until now. Instead of prudent financial planning which includes making tough choices, their response has been to tally up what everyone wants and that's the budget. And they can get away with it because they know that, while real property values can easily fall, their appraisal values only go in one direction - up! Meanwhile business incomes and personal incomes are taking a huge hit in what is perhaps the biggest economic downturn in the history of the province. Many don't have the extra thousands the city is demanding. The question is this: with all the intelligent, experienced professional types we know are out there, why is it we continue to elect people who have so little empathy or respect for the citizens they're supposed to represent?

  • Jon Keefe
    January 22, 2016 - 10:10

    I called the assessment line, and nobody answered; I left a detailed message with my name, address, and phone number. Nobody returned my call, and I received an assessment with a 20% increase in the mail. Dennis O'Keefe is just plain lying when he says people could have appealed their assessments -- they didn't even want to come into my home to assess it in the first place.

  • Fred
    January 22, 2016 - 09:49

    The mayor knows full well that most appeals drives the amount of assessment even higher. We tried an appeal once and would NEVER do it again. It almost felt like revenge for asking for an appeal. I would like to know if anyone ever got a reduced Bill from an appeal?

  • Jason Whelan
    January 22, 2016 - 09:30

    The appraisals came out ahead of the tax bills. I assume the delay was people giving council the benefit of the doubt that they would reduce the mil rate as an offset. And..... they didn't. All semantics. Council knew bloody well this would cause massive tax hikes.

  • Bob Hallett
    January 22, 2016 - 08:41

    The Mayor is being cute; he knows darn well that appraisers cannot change assessments or lower taxes. They an only discuss how they reached their conclusion. And anyway, the problem is not appraisals - it is the horrendous tax increase. That was entirely the fault of the Mayor and his Council, and they need to take responsibility for their financial bungling.

  • Dream on
    January 22, 2016 - 08:41

    You think you're going to win an appeal dealing with this council?

  • Steve
    January 22, 2016 - 07:51

    I completely appreciate the frustration of business owners, but I think part of the problem is that the business owners are not always the building owners. It is the building owners who received the tax increase, and it is up to them if they want to appeal or not. The increase will likely be passed on to the business owner through rent, but they have no control over it. Any business owner who owns their own building and didn't appeal is a fool, I'm sorry to say.

  • Dee
    January 22, 2016 - 06:11

    Also makes me wonder why didn't they appeal when they came out a few weeks before taxes,I am a home owner and I received my review just before Christmas which I had a chance to review my property value and appeal if I wished to do before I got my tax bill after the New Year.So why these businesses didn't appeal before the dead line is beyond me,

    • Jayne
      January 23, 2016 - 13:22

      Many people have said that when the called the Appeals office they were told not to appeal, as it could cost them even more.....that's a veiled threat. Everyone taxpayer has a right to appeal and those who were told that should come forward and do so. Sounds like the Appeal dept didn't want to be bothered I appealed without calling. Take back your power. Don't let the City tell you what you can or can't do. This Council needs residents to stand up and say ENOUGH.