photos Angela Gzowski
The tax debacle that’s been pissing off Kam Lake residents since their property taxes skyrocketed in July is little closer to resolution following Monday’s municipal services committee meeting.
Back in August, city administration was tasked with figuring out how to ease the Kam Lake Tax burden. The neighborhood saw an average tax increase of 31.28 per cent following the general assessment earlier this year.
Administration put three options on the table:
1) Collect the taxes in full, but allow people hit with a disproportionate increase to pay in installments over the next three years.
2) Cap the tax increase at 31.28 per cent – the neighborhood average – for residents whose taxes increased by more than $1200. Then allow an increase of up to 31.28 per cent a year until property owners caught up with the amount they owed based on their property assessment and the mill rate.
3) Cap the tax increase at 25 per cent a year for 2014, 2015 and 2016. This kind of cap was applied in the mid-90s when the City capped the increase at 10 per cent for properties unduly affected by a 1995 general assessment.
After hearing from a number of Kam Lake residents who roundly rejected the proposals, council sent the recommendations back to administration. They asked them to return with other options and take a closer look at getting approval from the department of Municipal and Community Affairs for the second and third options – both of which require approval from the GNWT because they entail tax relief.
There was some disagreement amongst councillors about how to proceed. Councillor Adrian Bell expressed interest in lowering the mill rate for commercial/industrial properties across Yellowknife, though he was reticent about offering tax relief to Kam Lake alone.
“We use our current system as too blunt an instrument, it could be a lot more fair, but the difficulty is having the conversation only speaking about one specific neighbourhood.”
Councillor Bob Brooks took a different approach. He suggested the problem stemmed from council’s inability to target specific neighbourhoods with different mill rates, which determine the amount of tax payable per dollar of assessed value.
“In the past, we had 17 different mill rates, and the reason we had that is so when we had our general mill rates discussions we could say this area needs to be tweaked more than this area.”
Right now, there are only 6 mill rates.
Council seemed to agree on dropping the frequency of general assessments from every seven or eight years to every five, which means taxes could be changed two years earlier. They’re expected to vote on this part of administration’s recommendation during a meeting on Tuesday, October 14.
Rezoning Kam Lake
The second memorandum presented at the meeting – rezone Kam Lake from light industrial/commercial to mixed industrial/residential – also met opposition from several Kam Lakers who were present.
According to administration, there are roughly 50 properties in Kam Lake that could be considered residential properties; yet because of the current zoning, they’re forced to pay property taxes at a commercial/industrial rate.
“The intention of this recommendation is to recognize what’s a small family business with a home on the site and what’s a strictly commercial operation, and make a distinction between the two,” explained Councillor Dan Wong.
Several residents, however, said they’re fine with paying commercial/industrial rates – it’s what they signed up for when they moved to the area.
Their concern is that the nature of the neighborhood will change if it’s rezoned and new people move in expecting Kam Lake to be a comfortable neighborhood like Niven. It would be like mixing oil and water, said one of the residents.
“I would like to see more businesses and less residences,” said Gord Olson, owner of Polar Tech. “We should be leaving more room for more businesses to move in.”
Councillor Bell said the issue was simply too big to be dealt with without more extensive consultation.
“To support a decision right now that effectively puts in place a small creep of residential in Kam Lake, I just think it’s the wrong way to be going about it. If we’re going to have that discussion it should be transparent and we should say that that’s what we’re trying to do.”
An official recommendation from administration will be presented to council next week.
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