Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Canso ratepayers bring taxation concerns to MODG council

  • January 10 2024
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH — The Eastern Guysborough County Ratepayers Association (EGCRA) and staff for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) locked horns at an open council meeting last week over the definition of fair taxation.

At issue was whether residents of Canso pay too much – or, conversely, whether residents of Guysborough pay too little – in municipal taxes for the public services they receive. The consolidated (base plus area) rate for Canso is $2.49 per $100 of assessed residential/resource property; Guysborough’s rate is approximately $1.

That, argued EGCRA representative Rob Carter during his PowerPoint presentation at the Jan. 3 committee of the whole meeting, is unfair.

“How is it that Guysborough residents enjoy substantially more local services than Canso does?” he asked. “Every taxpayer in the municipality chips in for Guysborough’s local service...On a typical middle-class home ... in Guysborough, it’s a $1,000 tax bill. In Canso, it’s $3,000 and $2,000 of that is for local services. So, they are sort of paying for local services for all of Canso and part of Guysborough.”

He added: “Those of us who live in all of the other remote areas ... pay at the pump ... to access [Guysborough-based] local services ... and nobody reimburses us for our mileage.”

What’s more, he said, the tax-rate discrepancy is a disincentive to development in the area. “Fishermen are doing well [in Canso] ... Vulcan Black Point [quarry] is on the way. Those are the kind of jobs you can get a mortgage with. They’re paying living wages. It’s stable employment ... The tax rate cuts off the oxygen to any chance of [new] homebuilding [here].”

Addressing council, Carter concluded: “The ratepayers want to work together, but they want a level playing field. They are asking for you folks to find appropriate tax rate adjustments to the annual rate setting process ...We’re not looking for answers today ... [But] if that doesn’t work, then we’re going to try to generate a little energy around. Recognizing that councillors are up for re-election later this year, we want that dialogue to happen.”

Responding on behalf of MODG, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Shawn Andrews noted that municipal staff had dug into the numbers and looked at each of the communities, Canso and Guysborough, “One to one ... It was a little bit of an eye-opener. Fair taxation for MODG and all rural municipalities is about what you pay [for] the services you receive.”

In May 2015, he said, the total tax bill on the average residential assessment of $38,498 in Canso was $904. “And, this was an all-encompassing tax bill – street lights, fire protection. Within the Canso rate was the charge for sewer, which is a separate charge for Guysborough, as well as Little Dover. In Guysborough, at that time, the average assessment was $110,143 and the total tax bill was $1,145 ... The difference between [the two tax bills] was $241.”

In 2023, he said, “the average assessment in Canso is $47,960 and the average tax bill is $1,196. In Guysborough, the average assessment is $164,146 and the average tax bill is $1,848 ... So, now the difference between [the two tax bills] is $652.”

He added: “The basic premise is that we [the municipality] have control over one item, and the province – through the Property Evaluation Services Corporation – has control over the other. The simple tax rate versus the assessment is what you pay.”

The bottom line, he said, is that “Guysborough residents are paying $652 more [in] their taxes than Canso homeowners for approximately the same number of services ... And [if] we just take a standard three per cent inflation rate ... as the years go on, that gap gets wider and wider.”

In an interview with The Journal following the committee of the whole meeting last week, Harold Roberts, president of the Canso Area Development Association, said that while his organization has no authority or mandate to guide the issue, it continues to help EGCRA become “both an advocate and a conduit between the municipality and the taxpayers. The idea is to bring clarity and get clarity. There is a role for open dialogue around the whole process and the timeframes in which municipal tax rates are set.”

Last March, the municipality kept base taxes unchanged across the board: $0.77 per $100 of assessment for residential/resource property and $2.74 per $100 of assessment for commercial property in MODG; and $1.51 per $100 of assessment for residential/resource property and $1.3470 per $100 of assessment for commercial property in Canso. Council also increased the low-income tax exemption from $30,000 to $35,000, raising the rebate to $200 from $100.