City staff will look into new provincial regulations allowing municipalities the option to cease giving tax rebates to owners of commercial buildings with vacant areas, but the decision whether to cut the rebate or not will be up to city council.
Shelley Schell, chief financial officer for the city, said typically about 120 properties are granted the 30 per cent tax rebate every year, with $375,000 allotted in the 2017 budget for the municipal portion.
Schell said the rebates are not automatically granted and that properties must meet certain criteria to be eligible for the rebate.
“The individual organizations that do get it have to apply for it,” said Schell.
Recently, changes proposed to the Municipal Act by the provincial government allow the municipality to discontinue offering tax rebates to owners of vacant buildings.
Schell said city staff will be looking into the changes, but the decision whether to revoke the tax rebate or to stay the course will ultimately be up to council.
“Once we have information, we will bring a report to council and we may have a recommendation or we may leave it to (city council) how they want to proceed,” said Schell.
Among other requirements, properties under consideration for the rebate must have areas vacant for at least 90 consecutive days and separate from any used portions of the building.
Josh Ingram, manager of the Downtown Association, said he doesn’t want to see the rebate vanish entirely, but feels it could be put to better use.
“Instead of being a rebate for vacant properties, we are hoping to see those business or building owners who have vacant properties to allow tourism or education to use those storefronts for a very minimal amount of time throughout the year to edify and assist the community with engagement,” said Ingram.
He proposes, “you can help your community out with your property in exchange (for the rebate), as opposed to the land just being vacant.”