Janice Morrison

Janice Morrison

COLUMN: Tax thoughts spring forth

Councillor Janice Morrison comments on Nelson city council's focus on property taxation rates.

Contributed by Janice Morrison

Spring fever and associated activities have come early this year to Nelson. Flowers are blooming, friends are out in their greenhouses, my triathlon group is organizing rides, and citizens are submitting Slugs about the dust on the streets.

Tennyson wrote, “In spring a young man’s fancy turn to thoughts of love.” But a city councillor’s thoughts turn to taxation. Until May 15, council’s focus will be on the property tax rate bylaw.

So now is a perfect time to examine our property tax bills. For the majority of us, including myself, we open that bill with trepidation and then lament the city has raised our taxes again. But let’s take a closer look at what is included in that tax bill.

We collect school tax on behalf of the provincial government. School property tax accounts for approximately 33 per cent of the provincial education budget.

As property owners, we share the cost of providing education in BC even if we do not use the service. In Nelson, school tax accounts for 27 per cent of our property tax bill. In 1957 the home owner grant was introduced to reduce the education property tax. This grant has a current maximum of $770.

If you are over 65 or have a disability, the maximum is $1,045. So depending on your assessment, we tax but you get it all back as a grant. It is time to review this taxation model for education funding — but to be clear, this is not the responsibility of city council.

General municipal accounts for 50 per cent of the total property tax bill. This taxation pays for the variety of services the City of Nelson provides. Protection services (fire and police), public works (roads, sidewalks, snow removal,) parks, recreation and cultural services, library — the list is long. Approximately 69 per cent of this taxation is from residential properties, 25 per cent is commercial/business and six per cent from boundary expansion.

Twenty per cent of the property tax assessment is collected by the City of Nelson on behalf of the Regional District of Central Kootenay. We have a number of service agreements with our neighbours in the regional district. The largest is the co-funding of the Nelson and District Community Complex.

We share the cost of this recreation facility with Area F and Area E (West). Other service agreements include waste management, regional park agreements and a portion of RDCK administrative costs.

The last three per cent goes to the West Kootenay/Boundary Regional Hospital District. This money goes to paying for up to 40 per cent of capital upgrades/new projects identified for our hospitals. This board is composed of representatives from both the rural areas of the RDCK and Regional District of Kootenay Boundary and the municipalities (Nelson, Trail, Castlegar, Salmo, etc.).

This is another tax that should be reviewed. Calculating taxation based on property value (assessment) is often skewed. Those jurisdictions that have high assessments pay more than those with lower assessments but may not see equitable benefit. Perhaps a parcel tax where everyone in the region pays the same amount would be more appropriate.

Taxation is often seen as a curse. However there are far more positives than negatives that flow as a result of the collection of common-wealth for the common good. Andre Carrel, the past CAO of Rossland, recently wrote “the common good of taxation is that the value we, citizens individually, receive for the taxes we pay is far greater that what we could hope to receive if we had to purchase every common good service provided by the municipality from suppliers in the private sector.”

I hope to see many of you when we present the 2015 budget at the open house March 12 at the Nelson Public Library. Happy spring! Comments or questions? Please email jmorrison@nelson.ca.

Janice Morrison shares this space weekly with her Nelson city council colleagues.