Cut capital spending instead of hiking business taxes, St. John's council told

The St. John's Board of Trade and several other associations are petitioning City Hall for tax relief for businesses and residents.

Wants city to delay millions in capital works projects

St. John's Board of Trade Chair Des Whelan says a petition will be brought to City Hall next week asking for tax relief. (CBC)

The St. John's Board of Trade and several other associations are petitioning city hall for immediate tax relief for businesses and residents.

Eight associations have joined forces on the petition, including the province's restaurant association, the home builders' association, Downtown St. John's and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Their petition,"Tax Relief Now," calls for immediate tax relief, the removal of the new vacancy tax, and for city hall to curtail spending.

It will be presented to the city at next Monday's council meeting. But, according to Board of Trade chair, Des Whelan, they won't just go to the city with their hand out. 

"Next week we are presenting a petition of over a thousand voices to the City of St. John's, and we'll be asking them for this tax relief and providing them with other options," Whelan said.

When tax relief is provided to business and residents, everybody succeeds.- Des Whelan, Chair of St. John's Board of Trade

One of those options is around capital spending. The board wants the city to delay $9 million in capital works spending — money for roads, buildings and other expenses.

Whelan said the city moved up some planned capital works projects scheduled for 2018, to this year — 2016.

He said the projects were fast-tracked due to a windfall from a tax increase. Whelan said those projects need to be moved back to the original schedule in 2018.

"Any projects that have been moved from the original capital works plan should be moved back to 2018 and then this money could be provided back to the citizens and businesses of St. John's as tax relief."

Whelan said the board has assured its members they are supportive of capital works projects — just not right now.

"This is not a time to fast-track any projects into a time when there are budgetary issues and businesses are suffering and residents are suffering because of tax increases," Whelan said.

"I would say this is a time when tax relief should be provided .. .because when tax relief is provided to business and residents, everybody succeeds."

Businesses at risk

Whelan said his members support the board's position and desperately need the tax relief.

"What's at stake is that we have businesses in this city that could fail and fold, there could be layoffs," according to Whelan.

"And anybody who is able to absorb these tax increases, there are going to be hardships."

Whelan said if the city is determined to go ahead with the capital works projects this year, it needs to find other ways to do it.

"There could be opportunities for partnerships with business as well, to find other ways to finance capital works projects," he said.

"Perhaps they can look at P3, perhaps they can look at partnerships. There are many ways that you can move forward with this sort of work."

City tabling 2017 budget guidelines

In a news release, the city said it's tabling its 2017 budget guideline document at Monday's council meeting.

That's earlier than usual according to Jonathan Galgay, who is chair of the finance committee with the city.

Galgay said the document will outline a series of priority targets that will reflect council's objectives on mil rate reduction, expenditure and staffing control, and capital expenditure.


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