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Business owners plan to keep heat on council over tax hikes


St. John’s business owners are going public with the increases to their tax bills in an effort to keep the pressure on city hall to ease the tax burden on residents and business owners.

Shane Kelly, a photographer, business owner and downtown landlord, posted on his Facebook page Monday night that the tax on his downtown property is going up 71 per cent. The photo showed his building as it appeared before his family purchased it.

Shane Kelly, a photographer, business owner and downtown landlord, posted on his Facebook page Monday night that the tax on his downtown property is going up 71 per cent.

“I spent two and a half years renovating and restoring the Neyle-Soper building on Water Street to create a space for Auntie Crae’s and my photography business,” he wrote on Facebook, noting that when Auntie Crae’s owner Janet Kelly closed Auntie Crae’s, Rocket Bakery stepped in to fill the void. “Downtown would not be what it is without businesses like this. This budget is choking all of us.”

Kelly told The Telegram he is appealing the 71 per cent increase to his commercial property assessment, but said that’s a “token” gesture beyond the reach of many small business owners, with a $250 cost to appeal as well as time and money to fight the assessment — resources many small businesses can’t afford to part with.

Kelly declined to provide figures to The Telegram, but said he was concerned when he saw how much the property value had increased.

“It was not in line with any previous assessments, percentage-wise,” he said. “I think everybody expects that their assessments will increase yearly, with inflation, but there’s nothing here that represents inflation or property values.”

He said he wasn’t optimistic that the city’s 2016 budget, approved in December, would provide much tax relief, noting one councillor — Art Puddister — went public with his dissatisfaction over tax increases, before the budget was made public.

“Their attitude was very arrogant right from the beginning,” Kelly said, adding that the introduction of a vacancy tax unfairly hurts landlords with temporarily empty properties for the sake of punishing a few owners of long-vacant spaces.

Musician and restaurant owner Bob Hallett, who has been outspoken about the commercial tax increase — an average 21.2 per cent for business owners — said Tuesday his tax bill will more than double in 2016, going from $8,580 in 2015 to $17,640 this year, an increase he calls “insane.”

“I think business owners are slowly coming to a realization,” he said. “I talked to a bunch this morning, and a lot of the renters don’t realize this is going to be passed on to them, because most landlords aren’t in a position to absorb anything like this kind of an increase.”

Like Kelly, Hallett is frustrated by the response he has received from councillors he has spoken to about his concerns.

“I’ve seen no recognition whatsoever at city council that they understand how delicate downtown is, and how a tax increase like this is going to make it difficult, impossible, for a lot of small businesses to survive.”

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com; Twitter: @DanMacEachern

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