The new president of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities says the cap on property tax assessments has created inequality around the province and needs to be addressed.
Claire Detheridge, a long-serving member of Cape Breton Regional Council who has spent 33 years in local politics, was named president of the municipal advocacy group earlier this month.
The original intent of the cap was to protect older properties in desirable areas, such as those with water frontage, from spikes in assessments caused by a high sale price, new construction or renovation nearby.
Over time, it came to be applied across the province, but benefits only the owner of the home at the time the cap was applied. Once a property is sold, the cap is removed.
This has created a situation in which properties in the same neighbourhood with roughly the same value often pay wildly different property taxes.
"I can use one example of some people that I knew quite well," Detheridge told CBC Radio Cape Breton's Information Morning.
"(They) had a big two-storey house, four bedrooms, kids are all gone, very seldom ever come home all at once, so they decided they wanted to downsize to a smaller house. And the tax bill that they got was at least 1.5 times higher than the house they left, and whoever bought their home were probably in the same boat."
For their part, municipalities say they're not receiving all the property tax they should since yearly tax increases are capped, despite any bump in property value.
This year, the cap will limit property tax increases to 2.1 per cent of any hike in assessment.
In the hands of the province
Detheridge acknowledged that any move by the province to change the tax structure could be unpopular with some taxpayers, but she said the current Liberal government appears willing to talk about it.
"There's a partnership being developed right now between the municipalities and the province," says Detheridge, who will serve for one year as UNSM president. "They're looking at all kinds of issues that affect municipalities and provinces alike."
She said the provincial government has "been very clear" that it's willing to discuss the assessment cap, but wants the opposition Progressive Conservatives and NDP represented at the table.
"There has to be buy-in because it can't be used as a tool to beat one another up," Detheridge says. "It's never going to work like that."
Detheridge also said UNSM wants to talk to the government about municipal contributions to provincial services such as education and housing.
Such contributions amount to millions of dollars a year collected by municipal units and paid to the province. She said most of that money is reimbursed through equalization payments, but not all.