The Municipal Act mandates property tax breaks for vacant properties, which reward property owners who keep their buildings empty and encourage speculators to hold out for public subsidies.
By John Neary
Published March 22, 2010
It's not hard to see why. No public interest is served by rewarding property owners who keep their buildings empty, and no principle of justice is upheld by giving tax breaks to a subset of those people who are wealthy enough to own industrial and commercial buildings. (Especially the particular subset that fails to put those buildings to use.)
However, the city isn't to blame on this one. You see, it's only doing what the province requires it to do.
Section 364 of the Municipal Act compels all Ontario municipalities (except Toronto, which is similarly compelled by the City of Toronto Act) to offer a 30 percent property tax rebate to vacant commercial properties, and a 35 percent rebate to vacant industrial properties.
To put it otherwise: while North Carolina held out tax incentives for Siemens to invest in Charlotte, our provincial government offered a tax incentive to shutter the Hamilton plant. Once the doors close for the last time, their property taxes will drop by 35 percent!
However, being wealthy enough to own commercial or industrial property pretty much rules out hardship. Tax breaks could also be justified if they served the public good, but what public good is there in keeping buildings empty?
The Municipal Act should enforce higher taxes on vacant property, which would force the speculators who own most of our downtown to choose between redeveloping their land or selling it to someone else who actually wants to.
If we want an end to perverse economic incentives for failure, we should take our case to Queen's Park, not to City Hall.
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