Nova Scotia small-business owners hoping for relief on their property taxes have submitted thousands of property assessment appeals to Property Valuation Services Corp.
With the deadline to contest an assessment passed, the non-profit agency that does property assessments for the province’s municipalities is now tabulating appeals.
In previous years, more than 2,000 commercial property owners appealed their assessment.
Given discontent among many small businesses regarding their property assessments, this year seems to be shaping up no differently.
Doug Moxam, a Realtor and the owner of Royal LePage Anchor on Bedford Highway, said his property assessment has skyrocketed.
“Since buying the building, the assessment has gone up every year, but this year, it went from $234,800 to $531,300,” Moxam said.
His wife, Karen Moxam, the vice-president of operations, said the property assessment came as a shock to the family-run business.
“We’ve appealed the assessment because this would have a devastating impact on us,” she said.
“The marketplace has not been great and I really just don’t know how we’d deal with this.”
Royal LePage Anchor’s tax bill was $8,900 last year, and if the appeal is denied, the business will face a bill of more than $20,000 this year, Moxam said.
Pete Tatham, owner of the Arbor View Inn, has run into similar problems with his property assessment.
Since buying the historic Lunenburg property in 2008, Tatham said the inn’s assessed value has increased 161 per cent.
“There is no rhyme or reason to the increase. It’s obscene.”
He appealed his property assessment last year and had it lowered by $110,000.
However, the inn’s assessment has jumped another $30,000 this year.
“We haven’t so much as picked up a paintbrush and our assessment it up again,” Tatham said.
 “But, meanwhile, our neighbouring properties have all gone down.
“Relatively speaking, there is no other comparable property in Lunenburg that has seen anything above an 80 per cent increase (since 2008) and we’re double that.”
In 2011, he said he was forced to reduce the number of rooms at the inn to four from six to avoid a commercial assessment.
“Property taxes have made it prohibitive to expand our business. We’ve had to forgo the revenue of extra rooms to keep our property tax bill down.”
Tatham said “if we had known expanding the inn would have a commercial tax implication, it would have been a deal breaker” at the time of purchase.
It is a situation many small-business owners have faced when they open up their property assessment notices.
Total property values in Nova Scotia are up six per cent from last year, which means most commercial property owners, as well as homeowners, will see a hike on their tax bills.
Charles Cirtwill, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said an increased property assessment does not have to result in a higher tax bill.
“Only a positive action by the local taxing authority (and that includes a positive choice to do nothing) will result in an increased tax bill.”
Municipal councils are responsible for the higher bills, not the province or the assessment corporation, he said.
HalifaxRegional Municipality“used to have to vote, or at least debate, whether to take the (increase) or to reduce the rate when assessments went up,” Cirtwill said.
“They now, as do most councils, simply take it as their due.”
Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said higher tax bills due to rising assessments are nothing more than “sneaky tax increases that kill jobs and small business.”
“It’s time for the province to cap commercial tax assessments to ensure that businesses are protected from rising tax bills due to assessments. This would force municipalities who want to rake in more tax revenue to hike tax rates instead.”