Concerned seniors still want old mill rate back
© Derek Montague
Former town councilor Stanley Oliver angrily confronts Mayor Jamie Snook after a special town council meeting concluded on April 16
The Happy Valley-Goose Bay Town Council announced new tax discounts for seniors during a special council meeting, held on April 16. The new discounts, which will be in effect for the 2014 tax year, has done little, however, to calm the controversy over the town’s new property tax system.
In the 2014 budget, the town council axed the seniors’ special mill rate. 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.
Now everyone, regardless of age, pays the same 8.0 mill rate on property tax.
The town council has elected to use a new tax discount system based on annual household income. 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.
Many seniors in town, however, are above the threshold for any low-income discounts. And, with no special mill rate offered anymore, are facing a 300 per cent increase in their property tax in 2014.
Ever since the new tax system was announced on March 7, seniors and concerned citizens have been highly critical of council.
At a grassroots meeting held on April 10, more than 100 people gathered at the Masonic Lodge to discuss ways to fight the tax increase. At the end of the night, a 14-person committee was formed to look into the issue.
The April 16 special meeting was brief and to the point. The council announced to the packed crowd inside the council chambers the special discounts for this year.
Seniors, aged 65 and older, who have a household income between $26,001 and $50,000 will receive 50 per cent off their property tax. Seniors who make over 50,000 in household income will receive a 25 per cent discount.
If a senior also qualifies for a low-income discount, they cannot, however, apply for both.
“I would just like to say that we… have heard, we’ve listened, to the seniors, we’ve listened to the community,” said Coun. Jackie Compton Hobbs, after the motion to adopt the new discounts passed unanimously.
“We’re back here tonight to make this motion so we can make it easier this year for the seniors. So we have heard, and listened to the seniors the past few weeks.”
For the seniors who have been fighting to get the old tax system back in place, the announcement comes as little consultation.
“I’ve got one word to say: ridiculous,” said senior citizen John Wall.
“We should go back to (2.0 mill rate) for seniors 65 years of age and older. Bring it back.”
Since the beginning of the controversy in March, people have criticized council for having all discounts based on income. Seniors in the community, say the critics, should receive the same tax break regardless of how much money they make in a year.
“When I get my old-age pension, the federal government doesn’t ask me for a means test,” said Rupert Dawe. “When I go to get my license, the provincial government doesn’t ask me for a means test to get a discount on my license.”
“Why should the lowest level of politics ask me for a means test?”
After the council meeting was over, there were some heated exchanges between citizens and council members in the building’s lobby. Concerned residents were expecting to have a chance to speak to councillors before the meeting was over. But, unlike a regular council meeting, there was no time allotted for delegations.
Since the residents couldn’t tell council what they thought in a public forum, they confronted the councillors individually afterwards.
“I’m very disappointed because it’s over before it started and seniors didn’t have a chance to voice their opinion at all,” said concerned senior Margaret Parsons.
In an interview with The Labradorian afterwards, Mayor Jamie Snook stated there’s no way the town will be going to a 2.0 mill rate for seniors. According to Snook, that system is not sustainable.
“We have no intentions of going back. That’s all about principle. The reality is, the people who have high incomes and high net-worth, should never be getting a 75 per cent discount,” said Snook.
“The council has said, right from Day 1, that we would give discounts to property owners who are in low-income situations.”
Snook believes that getting rid of the 75 per cent seniors discount was the right thing to do for the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“The amount of discounts that (seniors) have been receiving for god-knows how many years now, it’s obscene,” said Snook. “And I feel really good that something’s getting put right.”