Owners of vacant commercial or industrial property that has been empty for longer than 90 days are eligible, if they meet certain criteria, for a 30 per cent rebate on their property taxes. That’s something Town staff, along with their counterparts across Muskoka, would like to change.
Locally, the Vacant Unit Rebate is administered by the District of Muskoka under the Municipal Act. In its 2016 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review, the Province is allowing municipalities to tailor their vacancy rebate and reduction programs. That has led some Ontario municipalities to vote in favour of eliminating the rebate altogether, and those in Muskoka may follow suit.
“A lot of other towns and cities have opted to get rid of it primarily because they haven’t seen that it is stimulating landlords to make sure that their properties are not vacant,” said Julia McKenzie, Manager of Finance/Treasurer for the Town of Huntsville. “If somebody has a vacant property, they can apply for the rebate as long as they meet the criteria and they can get the rebate indefinitely right now. It’s reducing the incentive to get storefronts and downtowns and other areas with full tenants.”
McKenzie said that the treasurers of the municipalities comprising Muskoka have noted several concerns with the existing rebate: high administration requirements; no limit on the number of years property owners can apply for it; benefit only for commercial and industrial properties, not residential or multi-residential; and the rebate is being subsidized by other property classes. “All of the treasurers are in agreement with eliminating the program,” she said.
The changes would affect owners of vacant property but not vacant land, which is subject to evaluation by MPAC. (Read the full treasurers’ report here.)
Each of the municipalities in Muskoka will hold public consultations and provide any feedback received to the District of Muskoka, which will then make a decision on whether to keep or eliminate the rebate.
In Huntsville, that public meeting will occur during the General Committee meeting on October 25, at which point staff will present a report recommending that the Town support elimination of the Vacant Unit Rebate. Anyone wishing to provide feedback can attend. The agenda will be posted on the Town’s website here a few days prior to the meeting.
At the June 28 council meeting, Mayor Scott Aitchison and Councillor Brian Thompson suggested not only that the rebate be eliminated, but that the municipality lobby for the creation of a new tax category making owners of vacant properties pay a higher rate. (Read that story on Doppler here: Should property owners pay more tax if their buildings are empty?)
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