Frustration turns to anger

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

Published on January 21, 2016
St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe. — Telegram file photo

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

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