Audit committee searchs for other avenues of relief
After discussing a request from a group of merchants in the heritage district for a tax rebate program, members of the Town’s audit committee recommended a consultant be hired to design a program for implementation in 2021.
The merchants are looking for immediate tax relief to help them during the closure and recovery period of the pandemic, concerned they may not survive with no Shaw Festival to draw tourists and no international travel to bring them to town.
Most tenants on Queen Street have triple net leases, councillors learned, combining property tax, rent and maintenance on their buildings. Property taxes are based on market value assessment, the merchants told councillors in a letter requesting help, and that market value isn’t applicable at this time.
The heritage tax rebate program was instituted by the Province in 2001, and has been before previous councils, “many, many times,” said Coun. Allan Bisback at the audit committee meeting last Tuesday.
Director of operations Kyle Freeborn told councillors the program would allow rebates of between 10 to 40 per cent, as decided by the Town, with the purpose of preserving and maintaining heritage buildings. The Region could participate but isn’t required to, and the Province does offer a rebate if the municipality institutes the program.
In addition to the percentage, there is also a choice of which properties would be eligible for the rebate, both factors which would impact the cost to the municipality, Freeborn explained.
All four councillors on the audit committee, which includes Bisback, Norm Arsenault, Stuart McCormack and Gary Burroughs, were in favour of adopting the program, but Burroughs said he wanted help for the merchants immediately.
He suggested councillors look at the merchants’ property taxes. “They won’t be able to pay them this year. There is no Shaw, and there is no potential for recovery. We need to act now.”
Burroughs was the only councillor who did not support hiring a consultant for implementation of the program next year.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero was listening to the discussion, but is not a member of the committee.
She said she supports the program but believes it may not be the right vehicle for immediate relief, and asked the audit committee to come up with something that would provide help for store owners quickly, focusing on the immediate need of the tourism sector.
In addition to recommending the hiring of a consultant with a goal of implementing the heritage tax rebate program as part of the 2021 budget, the audit committee supported a motion to have Freeborn and Bisback canvass other municipalities to look for methods of immediate relief for merchants, focusing on the tourism sector.
The committee also recommended that Disero and Coun. Wendy Cheropita, the municipal representative on the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce board, approach the provincial and federal governments to ask for urgent relief for merchants in the heritage district.