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Nova Scotia towns to get flexibility with commercial property rates under bill

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia municipalities that want to boost commercial development in specific neighbourhoods will get new flexible property taxation powers under legislation proposed Thursday.

Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill said amendments to the Municipal Government Act and the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter would allow municipalities to phase in property assessments over a period of up to 10 years in one or more areas designated as commercial development districts.

Churchill said the change was made after concerns expressed by businesses and municipalities about the effects of “sudden and drastic” increases in property assessments on commercial growth.

“They (municipalities) will have to go through their own bylaw process and choose how to use this tool as they see fit,” said Churchill. “But we believe this is an important move to empower communities to take their economy and their future into their own hands.”

He said under the changes the designated districts must be part of a municipality’s planning strategy and receive municipal services such as water and sewer. Additionally, the average total assessment reduction must not exceed 50 per cent of the total increase of assessed property value.

Churchill said it’s hoped the move will help cities and towns encourage businesses to locate in so-called main street areas.

Patricia Cuttell Busby of the North End Business Association in Halifax said the measure is a good first step, but fails to address a request by regional council to set multiple tax rates.

Those would include the development of a special small business rate and establish different rates for businesses that set up in downtown areas instead of in suburban business parks.

Cuttell Busby said what might fit smaller rural municipalities is not necessarily what’s needed in a larger city like Halifax.

“They are very different creatures with different challenges,” she said. “Halifax is a large urban city and it actually needs more flexibility to be able to manage itself.”

Churchill said talks are ongoing with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities and Halifax Regional Municipality about other measures that could assist in economic development.