Senior tax controversy continues

Derek Montague
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Happy Valley-Goose Bay senior citizens meeting to discuss action plan

Wilbur Patey (left) and Reg Bowers are organizing a seniors’ meeting, to be held April 10, to discuss a plan of action to combat Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s new tax system.

The controversy over the elimination of the senior’s mill rate in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is not going away anytime soon. Following a heated town council meeting on March 25, where a lot of angry citizens voiced their displeasure, a group of seniors are forming an action plan to combat council’s decision.

Wilbur Patey and Reg Bowers, who both spoke critically of council at the March 25 meeting, are organizing an open meeting with affected seniors and concerned residents. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on April 10 at the Masonic Lodge, and is meant to gather a consensus for the next step in fighting the new tax system.

“We’re going to meet here as a group of seniors. Then we’re going to brainstorm and sort of see what our next plan of attack is,” said Patey.

“The meeting is to see what we’re going to do, whether we’re going to picket the town office or something … (but) we’ve got to get input from every senior citizen.

This is not going to go away.”


The new system

For years, residents 65 years-of-age and older received a much lower rate on their property tax than other residents. In 2013, seniors paid 2.0 mills, compared to the regular rate of 8.0.

But that has all changed with the 2014 budget, where everyone, regardless of age, pays 8.0 mills.

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.

The town council has supported this new property tax system, saying that it’s fair to all residents, and will help a lot of low income earners of all ages.

“When we’re elected, we’re elected to represent everyone in town, not just a particular group,” said Snook in an earlier interview with The Labradorian.

“To just go and say, ‘Here’s 75 per cent discount,’ that’s just not sustainable.”


Cutting into a fixed income

Bowers, Patey, and other senior citizens do not, however, meet the income threshold for a discount on their property tax. This means a 300 per cent increase in their mill rates.

Patey has estimated that he will be paying an extra $1,200 on his property tax this year, while Bowers believes he’s facing more than $2,000.

“The thing about it is there was a tax increase, up 300 per cent. This is a fair chunk of change for somebody on a fixed income,” said Bowers.

“Our provincial pension is not indexed,” added Patey. “So if the price of apples goes up tomorrow by a dollar a dozen, our pension doesn’t move.”

Just like many other homeowners in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Bowers says he’s also feeling the pinch from the housing market. Recent property assessments have gone up, which also means more property tax to be paid.

“When we came here our houses were (worth) 10-12 thousand bucks. Now they’re up to $200,000. So we paid (taxes) on increased values on our houses over the years and we didn’t complain.”

“So what are you talking about, when you talk about fair? I can’t figure that one out yet.”


A question of need

Patey and Bowers question whether or not the town council needed to squeeze more money out of seniors. They believe that other avenues could have been used to raise more money, without increasing taxes.

The two men point to a five per cent discount given to residents and business owners who pay their taxes within the first 30 days of billing. Getting rid of that discount, they claim, could save the town thousands of dollars each year.

“You don’t institute a tax because it’s fair, you institute tax because of need,” said Bowers.

“They didn’t do anything else, to look at any other avenues at raising money.”

Patey and Bowers don’t know what will happen at the April 10 meeting. But both say they support some form of protest, if the consensus agrees.

“Maybe we would want to go down there and rope the (town hall) parking lot off, for one thing. Maybe we would want to go down there with pickets,” said Patey.

Geographic location: Happy Valley, Goose Bay

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