Open house coming Wednesday night on proposed elimination of vacancy tax rebate program

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The County of Essex is hosting a vacancy tax rebate program open house Wednesday night and businesses from around the county are expected to attend.

According to the county’s website, the vacancy tax rebate program was established in 2001 under section 364 of the Municipal Act.

According to the county, “the program provides tax rebates to owners of vacant property in the commercial and industrial tax classes. The commercial class receives a 30 per cent rebate, while the industrial class receives a 35 per cent rebate if the property has remained vacant for a minimum of 90 consecutive days.”

The county further notes that recent changes to the legislation now affords municipalities the opportunity to review and assess the merits and success of the program.

The total value of vacancy rebates for the town of Amherstburg in 2016 was $54,536.

Reasons listed for consideration of scrapping the program include the belief that vacant properties have a negative impact on neighbourhoods; funds recovered from the program could be re-invested in incentives for growth and development and could be better aligned with Community Improvement Plans and that funds recovered would be invested in enhancing municipal services.

The county states there is “some concern that the program encourages a lack of property development and also discourages seasonal renting” and “there is no guarantee that the tax savings from the rebate program is used to increase rental viability.”

The program also requires “significant administrative resources” to administer with the number of applications for vacancy tax rebates also being on the decline in many Essex County municipalities in recent years.

Mary Birch, director of council services/clerk for the County of Essex, told county council last Wednesday night that in order to make changes to or eliminate the program, a public consultation process has to be undertaken. She said the open house will allow businesses and property owners the opportunity to come in and explain how eliminating the program would impact them.

“We’re anticipating there will be representation of each municipality at the open house,” said Birch.

Birch said recommendations will go back to each of the seven Essex County municipalities with a report to come back to county council, likely in November.

“It’s a lengthy process,” said Birch. “We hope to have it completed by the end of the year so we can have it completed by the 2018 taxation year.”

Justin Rousseau, director of corporate services/treasurer for the town of Amherstburg, also noted the request to change the program must be made to the Minister of Finance by the upper tier municipality, which is the County of Essex.

“The rebate applies to commercial property owners in the town, they will no longer be able to get a property tax reduction for empty store fronts.  By not offering the program the town will be able to keep the additional $54,536 that it was not able to in 2016,” said Rousseau. “The benefit to that is it helps reduce pressures on the municipal tax mill rate for all the residents of the town.  The drawback is now there is no relief for the owners of vacant store in the town.”

The open house is Sept. 27 from 4-7 p.m. at the Essex Civic Centre, located at 360 Fairview Ave. W. in Essex.

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