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Grenfell student union president says poll tax system was ‘messed up’

Nicole Falle
Nicole Falle - Diane Crocker

As happy as she is to see it go, Nicole Falle hopes eliminating the poll tax won’t affect services in Corner Brook.

Falle is the president of the Grenfell Campus Student Union.

The organization has long been an advocate of getting rid of the $200 poll tax, and that finally happened when council approved the city’s 2020 budget Dec. 2. 

Falle said the tax seemed like a charge for people who don’t have enough money to afford property within the city.

And it’s been argued the tax was a double one targeting students and low-income earners who already pay their share of property tax through their rent.

Like a lot of students hit with the bill, Falle doesn’t fit the mould of coming out of high school and going straight into post-secondary studies.

“We’ve been out of school, tried to work a bit, gone back to school again,” she said. 

Falle studied at College of the North Atlantic and took two years off to work before starting the business program at Grenfell Campus in 2016.

When poll tax time came, she wasn’t exempt because she had worked during the previous tax season and had made more than the threshold for exemption. 

“There’s a lot of people, especially mature students, student parents and part-time students, that don’t have the means to be able to not work.”

The city had been working to phase out the tax. In 2018, it raised the income threshold for exemption to $22,500.

“That’s not that much money,” she said.

In 2019, the threshold was raised to $32,500 and Falle assumes more students would have been exempt with that increase.

But when it comes to applying for the exemption, she said the process was frustrating.

“There’s so much to it,” she said. “Yeah, 200 bucks is really annoying, but a lot of people find one of the more irritating parts of that is the communication with the city is so poor.

“This whole exemption process could start for most people in July and last all the way to December."

For example, she heard from a Nova Scotia student who sent to the city the documents needed for exemption and then waited four and a half months for a response.

“A lot of people have a lot of pretty interesting poll tax stories,” she said. “It was a messed-up system.”

Still, the business student can’t help to wonder if dropping the tax as a source of revenue, roughly $300,000, will have any impact on services or if the city will look to recoup it another way.

The city budget contained no tax hikes. After delivering the budget on behalf of council, finance committee chairperson Coun. Bernd Staeben said the poll tax was regressive and had become difficult to administer.

He said the loss of poll tax revenue would be offset by increases in taxation from new development and better control of municipal spending.
Twitter: WS_DianeCrocker

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