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Nov. 29, 2020 | Sunday
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Council shoots down idea of tax break for heritage district businesses
File photo.

The Town of NOTL won’t be refunding 2020 taxes to businesses in the heritage district of Old Town.

A motion that would have had town staff explore the possibility of returning 40 per cent of the town’s commercial tax portion, as well as asking the Region of Niagara to consider refunding an additional 40 per cent of its commercial taxes was shot down Monday night, with Couns. Gary Burroughs, Clare Cameron and Wendy Cheropita voting in favour.

The motion was being considered to help businesses in the heritage area deal with losses during the pandemic, taking into account that tourism has been severely impacted and the businesses pay some of the highest taxes in Ontario, based on the amount of tourism the area typically gets.

Coun. Allan Bisback spoke against the motion, saying it’s not fair to other businesses in town who wouldn’t qualify for the tax rebate.

“I can't support this in any way shape or form,” said Bisback. “Because I can walk down the street and have a business in Virgil or St. Davids say to me, ‘Why only the heritage district?’ ”

Coun. Erwin Wiens said he objected to the idea for three reasons — because he believes it would violate the Municipal Act, he doesn’t think it would be fair, and that the town doesn’t have the money to support it.

The funding was proposed to come from the town’s parking revenue, which he pointed out is already down by about $500,000.

Newly appointed Coun. Sandra O’Connor, attending her first meeting of council, said she sympathizes with businesses that are struggling due to COVID, but that she was “concerned that this only addresses one aspect of what our residents are going through during this pandemic.”

She also agreed it would not be “a prudent thing to do” to spend money on the return at this time.

A resident letter campaign was started in opposition of the tax refund, with many agreeing it wouldn’t be fair to businesses in other areas of town, who are struggling as a result of the pandemic, too.

NOTL resident Mike Henry noted heritage property owners are real estate investors "and as such are exposed to the ups and downs of these investments. I'm sure if we were to look at the appreciation of the properties over time these investments have generated specular returns,” he wrote in a letter to councillors and The Lake Report.

Further, he said, “Giving this single group of taxpayers a 40 per cent tax break puts the burden on all other taxpayers who in no way benefit from this action.”

“As I understand it, several other special treatments for this group have already been put in place.”

Bruce Gitelman, a NOTL resident and representative of Residents for Sustainable Tourism, said he would only support the tax rebate if it applied to all residents and businesses in NOTL, not just businesses in the heritage district.

“We fail to see any compelling reason why the proposed beneficiaries of this gift/rebate from the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake are essential or non-replaceable businesses required for the safe operation of the town, or for the safety or benefit of tax paying town residents. Therefore the refund, bonus, gift or rebate of 40 per cent should be shared equally amongst all taxpayers suffering from the impact of COVID.”

Burroughs, who supported the motion, said “somebody better figure out a way to help these businesses before we have an empty main street.”

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