Smiths Falls town councillors are continuing to weigh their options before deciding whether to make changes to a provincial program that allows the owners of vacant commercial and industrial buildings to receive property tax rebates.
The Ontario government announced earlier this year that it would allow local municipalities to apply to the finance department by July 1 for permission to amend or abolish the rebate program, which has come under fire for serving as a disincentive to owners of vacant properties to look for tenants, and for shifting part of the tax burden onto residential ratepayers.
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At a June 26 meeting of town council’s Committee of the Whole, Clerk Kerry Costello said she had been advised that province would extend the deadline for applications to modify or abolish the vacancy rebate program to Aug. 1. She also presented a report providing council with additional information about the rebate issue, including steps taken by other Ontario municipalities.
Costello reported that three properties in town received vacancy rebates from 2012 to 2016, only to be eventually demolished.
Noting that nearby municipalities, including the County of Lanark and town of Brockville have decided to make no changes to the program, Councillor John Maloney said he appreciated fellow council member Chris Cummings’ concern that doing away with the rebate could make Smiths Falls less attractive to developers. However, Maloney said he is in favour of limiting the number of times the owner of a vacant property can apply, and would like to see property standards enforced.
“It’s a tough decision, but I guess that’s why we’re here – to make those tough decisions,” said Maloney.
Cummings said he felt no decision to alter the program should be made until the town has a chance to monitor the effect of changes made in other communities, but other members of council were in favour of taking action now.
Councillor Jay Brennan argued that Smiths Falls had lobbied the province in the past for changes to the program, and now has the chance to make those changes. “What I want to see eliminated is people taking advantage of this,” he said.
Councillors agreed that Costello should devise a plan for modifying the vacancy rebate program, to be presented to council at its June 24 meeting.