City looking at increasing property assessments to pay for services

The Halifax Regional Municipality should be able to charge more user fees and collect a municipal income tax to help pay for local services, rather than relying on property assessments, an Ontario expert on municipal government said Wednesday.

“This report does not recommend higher taxes,” said Dr. Harry Kitchen, a retired professor from Trent University in Peterborough who did a report for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies on the city of Halifax’s tax system.

“What it does do is argue for an efficient way of charging for the services currently used. One of the problems in Canada is that provincial governments are very, very hesitant to give municipalities any flexibility,” Kitchen said.

“My suggestion is that municipalities, particularly places the size of HRM, are large enough now that they can make their own responsible decisions. Let them do it.”
Assessment caps create inequities for taxpayers, he said, adding he believes user fees, a municipal income tax and a municipal fuel tax could help reduce the city’s reliance on property assessments.

His proposals include charging residents more for garbage removal based on the number of bags put at the curb.

“If one person wants to put out more bags of garbage, they pay more. This has been introduced in many, many municipalities in Canada in the last five to 10 years,” Kitchen said.

Halifax is currently in the midst of reviewing its tax system. User fees for services are being considered, said tax reform committee chair David Grace, but he said ideas such as a municipal income tax are just unrealistic.

“This is all controlled by the province. We sort of wrote and asked, and got refused. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but we don’t believe we would get anywhere with that one,” said Grace, a retired businessman.

The tax reform committee will make a presentation to regional council in March.