Chamber of commerce calls for five-year freeze on commercial tax rates

NANAIMO – Freeze for one property class will shift burden to others, like residential, according to city's manager of revenue services.

Nanaimo’s chamber of commerce wants a time-out on commercial tax hikes, claiming the rates are making it difficult to attract new business and harming profits.

The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce wants city politicians to freeze commercial tax rates until 2020 to relax the “inordinate burden” on commercial property owners. But the change will shift the tax burden to other areas, including residential and industrial.

Kim Smythe, chamber CEO, says the organization wants to see rates on par with similar-sized B.C. municipalities which are 13 to 25 per cent lower, beginning with a freeze next year.

It’s not a new request.

About five years ago, the chamber called for changes to high commercial and industrial tax rates. In  2009, the city launched a multi-year tax relief program for industry with one of its largest taxpayers under protection from creditors and mill closures. Rates seven times that of residential was eventually pared down to match commercial at 2.5.

But Smythe said there’s been no followup to address commercial rates and while the situation is not as cataclysmic as what the industrial sector once faced, it’s harmed the profit and sustainability of existing businesses and made the city unattractive for new ones.

“When we have an economic development corporation like NEDC out trying to attract business to migrate to Nanaimo and improve our tax base, it’s very challenging for them … they get as far as attracting people to the concept of coming to Vancouver Island and then they compare Nanaimo [rates] to Courtenay or Duncan and we start to lose them,” he said.

The issue hit Smythe this year, when he received a tax notice for the chamber office, which was $8,000 higher than the one for his home despite having almost the same assessed value.

“It’s alarming,” he said.

The chamber has offered to make a presentation at a Committee of the Whole meeting. If the city froze taxes in one area, it means other property classes, the largest of which is residential, would pay more, according to Diane Hiscock, the city’s manager of revenue services.

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