Minister Talks Taxes to Municipal Leaders
SERVICE N.S./MUNICIPAL RELATIONS--Minister Talks Taxes to Municipal Leaders
Giving a break to commercial child-care centres and getting rid of the business occupancy tax were the highlights of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister Barry Barnet's address to municipal leaders today, April 30 in White Point, Queens Co.
In his address to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) spring meeting, Mr. Barnet asked municipalities to consider giving a tax break to commercial child-care centres. "What we're asking is this: For municipalities to consider charging licensed, commercial child-care centres the residential tax rate instead of the commercial rate. Child-care centres look after children so the kids' parents can go to work. We should stop taxing them like they are no different than muffler shops or breweries."
The minister noted that while rates vary among Nova Scotia's 55 municipalities, the commercial rate in many is more than double the residential rate. "These centres provide an invaluable service to Nova Scotia families," he said. "Many have told us that any tax relief would be put right back into improving the centres, creating more spaces and hiring more staff."
He said the provincial and federal governments already help commercial day-care centres to the tune of about $2.5 million a year, and municipalities should consider helping as well. "We need to do all we can to support child-care centres and the families they serve. Affordable, safe child care is important because it removes an obstacle to the work force for low income families and single parents."
Mr. Barnet said he has written the UNSM asking its opinion on this issue and stressed any municipal relief would be voluntary. He said legislation could be introduced this spring that would give municipalities the option of charging privately owned and operated child-care centres the residential tax rate rather than the commercial rate.
Mr. Barnet also said the province has served notice with the UNSM that it will consider eliminating the business occupancy tax if, following consultation with them, that is what municipalities want. The minister said he wants to ensure municipalities have all the information they need to make an informed decision.
"Each municipality will be affected differently if this tax is eliminated and they should know how," he said. "For example, removing the business occupancy tax would result in changes to uniform assessment. For some municipalities this will mean a gain when you factor in all the transfers and costs involved in equalization, education and corrections. Some will see little or no difference. But others may be forced to increase tax rates to make up the difference. They are the ones I am most concerned about having the information they need to make an informed choice."
The minister said staff from his department and the UNSM will spend the next several months consulting with municipalities and sharing information with them. "We'll get the information out there, and municipalities must then decide if they still want to get rid of this tax," he said. "If the UNSM says: 'Yes, in light of this information our membership still wants the business occupancy tax eliminated', then I will introduce legislation in the fall to do just that."
The minister also urged municipal leaders to ensure their business communities are aware that the removal of the business occupancy tax will have no or very little effect on their municipal tax bills. "There are far too many business owners who are under the impression that eliminating this tax means a windfall for them, and more money in their pockets," he said.
He added that clearing up this misconception is a municipal responsibility. "(Businesses) need to know what municipalities have been telling us: that municipalities cannot afford to forego this revenue and will be replacing it with a higher commercial tax rate. Municipalities need to drive that message home until it sticks. Business owners must be aware that eliminating the business occupancy tax will likely have no impact on their municipal tax bill."
FOR BROADCAST USE:
The province is asking municipalities to consider giving a tax break to commercial child-care centres.
The minister responsible for municipal relations, Barry Barnett, made the request at a meeting today (April 30th) of municipal leaders in White Point, Queens County.
Mr. Barnet said the provincial and federal governments financially support commercial child-care centres. He said municipalities should consider charging these centres the residential tax rate, rather than the higher commercial rate.
The province may also eliminate the business occupancy tax, if following consultation, municipalities want to get rid of it. Mr. Barnet urged municipalities to communicate with the business community to ensure businesses know removal of the tax won't likely lower their municipal tax bills.
jal April 30, 2004 10:44 A.M.