Saint John councillor proposes two-tier property taxes

A Saint John city councillor says it is time for the municipality to look at a two-tier system for property taxes.

Rural residents shouldn't pay the same as those in city, John MacKenzie says

A Saint John city councillor says it is time for the municipality to look at a two-tier system for property taxes, but the idea is drawing a mixed reaction from the community.

Ward 2 Coun. John MacKenzie believes rural residents are being taxed unfairly.

"I don't think they should be charged the same tax rate as somebody who is living in an area where they have all the amenities right next door," he told CBC News.

In addition, the city can no longer afford to provide many services in rural areas, said MacKenzie.

"As long as we decide to be everything to everybody in a city this size it's going to be cost prohibitive," he said.

MacKenzie has not yet raised the proposal with council, but he contends services should either be reduced in rural areas, or improved in core parts of the city.

Either way, he said, the tax rate would be different.

A cost analysis could better determine what the benefits would be, if any, said MacKenzie.

The high tax rate has long been a sore point for some rural residents, who have fewer services than people in more urban areas.

"You continue to charge us the same tax rate as everyone else in this city," Latimore Lake resident Odette McGrath told council at a recent council meeting.

2 former councillors disagree

Former councillor and rural city resident Bruce Court said he would like to pay less taxes. But the city can't afford it, he said.

"It just won't work. The city needs X amount of dollars and you've got to have them."

Court said he has no sidewalks, public transit, water or sewage. He can't imagine the city reducing services further in exchange for less tax revenue, he said.

Former councillor Gary Sullivan said location and delivery of municipal services are already reflected in a home's value.

Lowering the tax rate in rural areas would also go against the city's plans for long-term growth in denser neighbourhoods, he said.

"Certainly in the City of Saint John, tax rate is a motivator. I mean, people in the city worry about it and think about moving to the outlying areas because of differing tax rates," said Sullivan.

"When I speak to friends who live outside the city proper, that is something they considered when they chose to live in Quispamsis, Rothesay or Grand Bay.

"If we gave a discount to not live in denser neighbourhoods, it would be a disincentive to follow through on targeted areas in Plan SJ."

But citizen Rob Hobson believes a two-tier system could lead to more development.

"If you want to grow the population base and the tax base you’ve got to make it competitive and based on the services, or lack of services," he said.