Given the large amount of vacant retail space in Smiths Falls, town councillors are considering cancelling a program that provides tax rebates to the owners of vacant commercial property.
In a recent report to council, Clerk Kerry Costello stated that “The Town of Smiths Falls has had an alarming number of vacancy rebate applications since 2006 due to loss of industry.”
This has had “increasingly burdensome” financial consequences to the municipality, according to Costello, because of a loss of property tax revenue.
The current vacancy rebate application program was introduced in Ontario in 2001 to provide property tax relief to owners of vacant commercial and industrial buildings through rebates issued by municipalities. Last fall, the province announced plans to allow municipalities to have greater flexibility in managing business property taxes, including the Vacant Rebate Tax Program.
At a May 8 meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole, some councillors expressed concern that the rebate is acting as a disincentive for property owners to work towards finding tenants for empty buildings.
The province is encouraging any municipality planning to make changes to the rebate program to consult with members of the community first.
Councillor Chris Cummings urged fellow councillors to proceed with caution, since ending the program might actually lead to a reduction in taxes being collected by the town.
At a May 15 council meeting, Costello presented plans to launch a public consultation process on the issue. An open house will be held Tuesday, June 6 in the upstairs hall at the Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre.
Cummings commented that the number of vacant commercial spaces in town is due not only to a loss of industry, but to changes in the retail landscape both province-wide and locally. “Historically Smiths Falls was the centre of commerce for the region,” said Cummings. However, he added, the large number of new retail outlets built in neighbouring Carleton Place and Kemptville have had an impact.