Property Tax Cap
Nova Scotia’s Capped Assessment Program (CAP) was back in the news last month thanks to the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) release of a visual mapping tool to better demonstrate the CAP’s impacts.
The CAP was brought in by the Province back in 2005 in response to concerns about the rapid increase in the value of coastal properties. The 2005 CAP kicked in when an assessments changed by more than 10%. In 2008 though, the Province changed the legislation to instead tie the CAP to the consumer price index. This turned the CAP from a brake on extreme situations into something that applied to a majority of homeowners. The CAP value only come off when a home is sold or renovated and since assessments have been rising faster than the price index for years, the result is that homeowners who have been in their homes for a long-time pay much less. While giving long-time residents a break may seem like a good thing at first blush, the reality is much more complicated.
When someone pays less, someone else has to pay more. The cap is basically a tax on newcomers, people who have recently moved, and renters (it doesn’t apply to apartment buildings). From a tax fairness perspective, it’s not great since you can easily have two similar homes right next to each other, receiving the same services, but one owner paying much more than the other. It may also be distorting the market by discouraging people from renovating or selling their home. Municipalities across Nova Scotia have been calling for change for a while, but the issue requires Provincial action. So far, that hasn’t been forthcoming.
It’s a difficult issue for our Provincial parties because explaining the CAP is difficult while labelling any potential complicated change as a tax increase is easy. There is a strong incentive to make political hay out of the issue and, in the world of partisan politics, that has created significant barriers to making any change.
Probably the hardest part about the CAP is the fact that many people who pay more because of it don’t know it. Renters in large apartment buildings don’t get a property tax bill directly, but the taxes owed on their building is paid for through the rent. HRM and other municipalities also have to have higher tax rates to compensate for money lost on capped properties. This means that there is a whole group of homeowners who see the CAP value on their bill and think they’re saving money, without realizing that the need for a higher tax rate wipes out those CAP savings. When HRM ran an analysis in 2017 on the interaction of the CAP and tax rate, what it revealed is that just under 50% of homeowners pay less, and 25% clearly pay more (new owners, recently renovated). What’s interesting is the remaining 25%. They live in homes that are capped, but the CAP savings aren’t enough to offset the program’s resulting higher tax rate. Most of them likely believe they’re saving money when they actually aren’t. When an argument is not only complicated, and half of one side doesn’t actually realize which side they’re on… those are some very difficult politics to work with!
To try and increase the public’s understanding of the issue, the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities has prepared an online mapping tool to more clearly show who benefits, and who doesn’t. Check it out at the link below and make sure to note the big savings the CAP provides to multi-million dollar properties along the Northwest Arm (some as much as $9,000 – $10,000 a year). This isn’t good public policy.
Nova Scotia CAP (nsfm.ca)
First Baptist Church Lancaster
Site work is well underway now at the future home for the First Baptist Church off of Lancaster Drive. I know there has been concern in the neighbourhood about how access to the Church would be handled, particularly from residents on Cannon Terrace. The fear is that church traffic will primarily use the the Cannon driveway because left turns into the church parking lot from Lancaster are blocked by a median. The strong community preference is for a new cut in the median to allow both left and right turns to and from the church on Lancaster. I wanted to take a moment to confirm that HRM’s Engineers have okayed left and right access from Lancaster. The cut in the median that is in place now isn’t just for construction, it’s permanent. Traffic impacts on Cannon won’t be zero, but this should help minimize usage of the church’s secondary driveway.
Construction Mitigation Plans
HRM’s Construction Mitigation Plans are now posted online! A Construction Mitigation Plan is a plan prepared by an engineer that clearly defines the steps that a developer will take to minimize impacts of construction on the adjacent community. A Plan is required for demolition, excavation, and construction if it will either create an obstruction on a municipal street or is planned for within 5 metres of a municipal property or street. To view the current listing of plans, check out the municipal website here.
Please note that HRM is posting mitigation plans on a go forward basis so old plans that were completed prior to HRM implementing online posting aren’t all listed. Old plans are being added as staffing allows.
Women’s Street Safety Survey
Bachelor of Community Design student, Natasha Juckes, is conducting a project on women’s perception of street safety in HRM. Juckes is asking women 18 years of age or older to fill out a short survey on how they feel regarding specific places and then map that location online. To participate, visit Juckes’ Dalhousie website here. Surveys must be completed by March 1!
Free Fine Arts Classes (youth)
The Halifax Regional Centre for Education’s supplemental fine arts programming has gone virtual. Programming is free and happens in the evenings. The plus of virtual programming is that students anywhere in HRM can participate. Classes started February 1, but late registrants are welcome. Offerings include singing, drama, playwriting, voice acting, performance, music theory, musical theatre, vocal coaching, rapping, visual art, instrumental and vocal jazz, a virtual kitchen party, trumpet, tap and musical theatre. For more information, check out the webpage here.
Step-Up to Leadership
Thursdays, March 18 – May 13, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
Fairbanks Centre, Shubie Park
The spring session of HRM’s Step Up to Leadership program is getting underway soon. The spring session will be held at the Fairbanks Centre in Shubie Park on Thursday. This nine week course is aimed at developing the leadership skills of community volunteers. The program covers a range of topics including personality types, planning, team work and group dynamics, diversity, communications and conflict resolution, how to create a non-profit, legal and practical concerns of being a board member in a non-profit, effective meetings, and public speaking. I was able to attend graduation night in the past and participants seems to find the program very valuable. For more information, contact Devon Bundy at 902-225-5806 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Master Composter Recycler Program
Class 1 Wednesdays, April 17 – May 12, 6:00 – 8:00
Class 2 Tuesdays May 18 – June 22, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
The Master Composter Recycler is a free six week program that trains residents on how to reduce waste through backyard composting and other at-home solutions. The program is open to all residents interested in becoming champions for waste diversion in their community. This year there will be two online course offerings to choose from. For more information and to access an application form, visit the HRM website here.
2021 Budget Deliberations
If you’ve been following my Council blog, you probably know that Council is well into our 2021 budget deliberations. At each budget meeting, there is an opportunity for members of the public to address Council on any budget related item. Since virtually everything HRM does has some sort of budget implication, it’s a pretty open-ended opportunity to speak to Regional Council about whatever you feel is important.
Council has already heard staff presentations from HRM’s internal administrative departments, the police, and the library, and we’ve also reviewed and approved HRM’s capital plan. The schedule for the remaining budget days is listed below:
- Wednesday, March 13
Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency
- Wednesday, March 10
- Wednesday, March 24
Transportation and Public Works
- Wednesday, March 31
Parks and Recreation
- Wednesday, April 7
Planning and Development
- Tuesday, April 20
Budget Adjustment List (aka parking lot)
- Tuesday, May 4
Final budget review
You can speak to any subject you want at any meeting, but, if you can, it’s good practice to line up whatever your issue is with the day that the relevant department is presenting to Council. Meetings typically start at 9:30 am and public participation takes place early in the meeting. Since Council is meeting virtually, you have to register in advance to speak. Please contact the Clerk’s Office at 902-490-4210 or by email at email@example.com no later than 4:30 pm the day before a meeting.
To keep you informed about what is going on at Council, I’m writing a regular blog after each meeting. Each of my entries is about what I saw as noteworthy from a District 5 perspective and my views on the issues. We might not always agree, but I think it’s important to provide a record of how I voted and why.
Council Update February 23
Major milestone in 2021 budget deliberations with the approval of this year’s capital plan. Everything that’s in store in District 5, plus boulevard gardening, street navigator funding, accessible taxis, and cancelled redevelopment plans at Mic Mac Mall. Read about it here.
Council Update February 9
Dartmouth is getting a splash pad on the Common and it will be called Shirley’s Splash Pad. Also, lessons learned around the Slow Streets pop-up program from last summer, and 2021 budget deliberations (Libraries and Police). Read about it here.
Council Update February 4
Harbour East Community Council’s approval of major revisions to the Twin Lakes proposal on Prince Albert Road. Read about it here.
Given COVID, there are a lot fewer events to report!
Craig Gallery Openings
March 3 – 28
The usual opening night celebrations aren’t possible right now, but new shows are coming and going from the Craig Gallery. The next set opens March 3 with Alice MacLean’s “Constructed Memories” and Iris Patterson’s “Refractions.” Pop by to check out the paintings and ceramics.
Snow and Ice Contest
Friday, March 5
Dartmouth Community Health Board
The Dartmouth Community Health Board is running a winter photo contest. Post a photo to your social media page of you being active in the snow or ice and tag the Dartmouth Community Health Board for the chance to win a $50 gift card. Contest closes March 5.