British Columbia

B.C. Liberals propose property tax relief for small businesses

Proposed legislation would allow local governments to reduce property taxes on "unused airspace" above small businesses.

Proposed legislation would allow local governments to reduce property taxes on 'unused airspace'

Small businesses, like Vernon Drive Grocery in Vancouver, could enjoy reduced property taxes under proposed legislation by the B.C. Liberals. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A bill to lower the tax burden on small businesses grappling with mounting property taxes has been introduced by the B.C. Liberals.

Put forth by municipal affairs critic Todd Stone, the proposed legislation would give local governments the capacity to reduce property taxes for small businesses whose bills have increased dramatically as the value of commercial real estate in B.C. soars.

"We are hearing increasingly from small businesses that are literally getting to a point where after year-over-year increases in their property tax bills — in some cases of 200 to 300 per cent — that they just can't survive anymore, and they're closing their doors," said Stone, who is also the MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson, at a news conference on Wednesday.

Property taxes in B.C. are based on the assessed value of a property. Stone says the assessed values for many commercial properties are being driven up dramatically based on their development potential, leaving many business owners with increasingly expensive property tax bills each year.

The proposed bill — an amendment to B.C.'s Assessment Act —  would create a new "commercial property sub-class" that applies to businesses occupying spaces that haven't been redeveloped, but still struggle with higher property tax bills.

Many small businesses in Vancouver are grappling with rising property taxes as the assessed value of commercial real estate soars. (CBC)

The sub-class would allow municipalities to apply lower tax rates to those businesses, as well as non-profits and charities.

"It's at the sole discretion of local governments to determine if A) they want to use this tool, and B) how this tool would be applied — namely, what rate of tax would be applicable," said Stone.

In Vancouver, for example, businesses currently pay about $9.33 for every $1,000 of their property's taxable value.

The proposed legislation was among resolutions recently endorsed at the Union of B.C. Municipalities 2019 convention.

Stone says the legislation must be passed by next week in order for proposed rules to take effect by 2020. 

Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said the issue is critical, especially due to the significant impacts of a red-hot real estate market.

She said the government is working on a permanent solution, as well as an interim solution to provide relief for small businesses for 2020.

"Unfortunately the previous government took zero action on this so we are playing catch-up," Robinson said. 

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