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Assessment cap debate: Flawed program or giving homeowners a break?

Last week, MLAs from all political parties met to discuss the future of the Capped Assessment Program
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Last week, MLAs from all political parties met to discuss the future of the Capped Assessment Program.

Originally created in 2005, the program was meant to prevent tax hikes for waterfront properties in rural areas.

"They initially brought it in as something really just to target those rapid increases, significant increases," says Neal Lovitt, Vice President of Planning & Economic Intelligence at Turner Drake & Partners.

The property tax assessment cap was expanded a few years later to include more homes, and now ties inflation to the consumer price index. However, the cap dissolves when a house is sold or renovated.

The community planner tells NEWS 95.7's The Sheldon MacLeod Show this has led to disparities in property tax assessments, even for buildings on the same street.

"There's properties across the province, rural areas as well where there is a significant difference right now between the capped and uncapped assessments," Lovitt explains.

After receiving a proposal from the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, the all-party committee has begun considering a phase-out of the cap over 13 years.

But Lovitt says some people won't be able to afford their property taxes if the cap is eliminated.

"Some of those belong to people who are fairly well-to-do and there's a reason those properties are very expensive and they probably have no problem absorbing the change in their tax bill. But there are certainly still examples of individual properties where the cap is providing a necessary policy response," he adds. "We're helping people that deserve to be helped."

The issue doesn't just affect rural property owners though. William Breckenridge, spokesperson for Friends of Schmittville -- a historic area in Halifax's downtown -- says that longterm residents will be forced out of their homes, some of which have been in the same family for up to 135 years.

"The average income in the area is around $25,300. So with a median average income like that, how do you expect someone to pay that kind of money? You're going to kick them out of the homes," Breckenridge tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

The community advocate says the sense of the community would change with new residents.

"When you have people who live in their place for a long time, they're more apt to put money into it, they're more apt to do things to make it better," he says. "In my neighbourhood we have a group who advocate for the neighbourhood, come together as neighbours. There's a sense of community, there's a social aspect to it as well, and those are from long -ime people that are there, not transient."

Breckenridge says Schmittville, located South of Spring Garden Road between Queen and South Park streets, is an example of a part of town where assessment values have skyrocketed.

"These zones have experienced, particularly in Metro Halifax and other areas of urban growth, extreme assessment values going up," he says.

For those whose homes are currently assessed around $250,000, Breckenridge says it could skyrocket as high as $600,000 or $800,000.

"A monthly bill could go from $200 to $400 without the rate changing," he explains. "Even if the rate doesn't change, you take off the cap, then you're still going to pay quite a bit more."

Before the committee makes their decision, Breckenridge hopes to get the word out to other residents about the possible cap program removal.

"I sat in on the first meeting and I looked out and there's no real public in here, they're only listening to groups. Where is the public? This was very poorly advertised and I think that's not reasonable," he says.

But for community planners like Lovitt, he can see the other side of the problem -- the cap is still benefitting people who could afford market rates.

"You have to look at the big picture," he says. "For every person that deservedly gets help, you're probably providing greater relief to maybe 10 times as many property owners that really don't need it."

Lovitt thinks if the Capped Assessment Program comes to an end, there should still be other programs in place to help people afford their homes who otherwise wouldn't be able to.

"To have a different policy rather than just capping all assessments across the board, to make sure people that need help get it," he adds.


Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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