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Businesses lobbying to prevent tax jump

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A local business owner is up in arms because he fears the town is looking to “dump” taxes onto them, and increase taxes over and above the 4.75 percent already announced by council.

In an letter faxed out to local Chamber of Commerce members and commercial taxpayers, Geroge Blanc, co-owner of La Place Rendez-Vous and former town councillor, warned businesses may bear the brunt of changes being handed down by the province.

And he’s asking them to lobby council members before any decisions are made at Monday night’s regular meeting.

Dr. Bruce Lidkea, president of the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, agreed there were concerns, and noted his organization--the voice of small business--wanted to make a presentation before council on what sort of tax ratio commercial taxpayers would be facing.

While he attended this past Monday’s committee of the whole meeting with three business owners, Dr. Lidkea said he wasn’t able to address council members.

“We certainly don’t want to see any increase in the ratio for business,” he stressed yesterday, arguing that would stifle many small businesses in town.

“We just want to make sure that they choose the right [option]. All we’re looking for is fair,” he added.

Blanc could not be reached for comment.

But Coun. Sharon Tibbs, who chairs the Administration and Finance executive committee, assured no decisions have been made yet and that council was just looking at its options.

“Monday night some of the decisions will have to be made. There’s all kinds of scenarios. And we’re looking at everything,” she noted Tuesday.

“What we have to look at is trying to be as fair as possible to everyone in the community,” she added.

And for that meeting, administration is looking to compare Fort Frances’ commercial tax rates to those in other municipalities in Northwestern Ontario.

But one major obstacle in the decision-making is the town still doesn’t have all the facts. Still missing is the bridge, utilities, pipeline, and railroad taxation, as well as the education tax.

And since some decisions will be irreversible, such as the capping of increases, Coun. Tibbs pointed out all the decisions couldn’t be made until all the facts came in.

“We don’t want to make snap decisions,“ she added.

“We’re expecting some of these items on Thursday, July 9,” CAO Bill Naturkach said, with Coun. Tibbs adding the property-by-property assessment was expected to come in today.

But the delay could mean a delay in the Aug. 31 final billing deadline, which the town already has bumped back once. And with the town in a “careful cash flow” situation, Naturkach said the province would be footing the next school board payment, which runs close to $1 million.

“It’ll have to be paid back,” he added.

Council will be looking at 11 different taxation issues Monday night, including:

•the issue of optional taxation classes for industrial areas (whether it wants to identify a large industrial class);

•assessment phase-in, which would allow the town to phase-in market value changes;

•graduated taxation, where the town can fix bands of incremental taxation for industrial and commercial properties;

•tax and transition ratios, with residential the basic ratio of 1.0, the benchmark for all other ratios;

•phasing in the assessment changes;

•capping tax increases at 2.5 percent for multi-residential, commercial, and industrial properties;

•graduated taxation (fixing bands of incremental taxation for industrial and commercial properties);

•allowing commercial landlords to recoup taxation from their tenants as the owners now receive both the realty and business tax;

•rebates to charities and similar organizations;

•rebates for business properties facing “unmanageable” increases due to property tax reform (how much would be considered unmanageable is being reviewed for Monday’s meeting);

•offering up to eight years’ tax relief to potential new multi-residential units who qualify; and

•whether the Aug. 31 target date for the final tax bill will be met.

But there will be no recommendations attached to the resolutions. “The resolutions will read options,” Coun. Tibbs said.

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