Residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in uproar over new system
© Derek Montague
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Town Hall.
Many senior citizens and concerned residents in Happy Valley-Goose Bay are in an uproar after the town’s council removed the senior citizens property tax mill rate.
For several years, property owners aged 65 and older were given a lower mill rate than everyone else in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
In 2013, seniors paid a mill rate of 2.0, rather than the general property tax rate of 8.0 mills.
But now everyone, including senior citizens, will be paying the same 8.0 mills on their property tax.
Equality and sustainability
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook said that eliminating the senior mill rate is important for the financial sustainability of the town.
“Twenty years ago that might have been sustainable when you had seniors sort of as a minority in the population,” said Snook. “If you look at the demographics of property owners in Goose Bay, you’re basically going to go from baby boom to bust.
“To just give that large group of the population a blanket 75 per cent discount, regardless of their income or wealth, it’s just not sustainable for the town.”
Snook also claims that the elimination of the special mill rate isn’t just about revenue generation, it’s about everyone being treated equally in taxation.
“When we went through our budget process, that’s the main decision council had to make in the budget,” said Snook. “There were three different mill rates — the main one for property, there was one for seniors, there was one for recreational properties.
“Through the course of our due diligence, the Municipalities Act was clear that there’s supposed to be one rate of tax for everyone, equally.”
In lieu of a special mill rate for seniors, the town council decided to expand property tax discounts for low income households.
A household that has a gross income of $0 to $23,000 will get a 100 per cent discount, while those with a household income of $23,001 to $26,000 will receive a 75 per cent discount. Households with a $26,001 to $29,000 will see 50 per cent reduction, and finally, those earning 29,001 to $33,500 will receive 25 per cent.
“There was concern . . . about people with low income that could be affected about this, and that’s where we more than doubled the income reduction amounts,” said Snook.
“The big thing that we feel really good about, as an initiative, is that it’s not only available to one segment of the population, it’s available to everybody.”
Not all happy about changes
For senior citizens in Happy Valley-Goose Bay who don’t qualify for any discount, like John Wall, the news is a bitter pill to swallow.
“It doesn’t seem right. All these years, we’ve had the seniors discount. Now all of a sudden, bang-o, they cut us of,” says the 82-year-old retiree.
“I don’t understand their reasoning because there’s over two hundred new homes being built, so they’re getting extra money there.”
Wall disagrees with Snook’s notion that having a lower mill rate for seniors is unsustainable, since the Muskrat Falls mega project is providing livelihoods for many young residents.
“There’s more young people coming in all the time,” said Wall. “We’ve had an influx of young people since Muskrat Falls started.”
Since Wall and his wife’s household income are out of range for one of the new discounts, they will be jumping from 2.0 mills to 8.0 mills.
Wall estimates that the increase will add hundreds of dollars a year to their property tax payments. That may add extra strain on a fixed income budget, especially in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where the cost of living is high.
“God knows it’s hard enough to live here in this town, with the cost of food, the cost of gasoline, the cost of everything. Everything has gone up and is going up all the time,” said Wall.
Wall has been in contact with a lot of his peers since he got wind of the new mill rate. According to Wall, some seniors are contemplating a protest.
“I’ve lived here 47 years, so I know a lot of (seniors),” said Wall. “They’re not very well pleased about this.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people — a lot of them — saying that they’d like to picket the Town Hall.”