Small GTA council becomes first to offer property tax rebate in wake of COVID-19 crisis

A small community east of Toronto appears to be the first municipality in Ontario to offer a tax rebate to people who have lost income due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Clarington set to give back up to $2M to residents who've lost income due to pandemic

Coun. Joe Neal of Clarington wants to use reserve funds to rebate up to $2 million in property taxes to needy residents. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

A small community east of Toronto appears to be the first municipality in Ontario to offer a tax rebate to people who have lost income due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Municipality of Clarington passed a resolution last Tuesday to let taxpayers "cancel, reduce or refund 50 per cent of the Clarington portion of taxes for the period of the declared emergency for residential taxpayers."

Coun. Joe Neal, who sits on both the Clarington and Durham Region councils, said he believes his is the first municipality in the province to offer a rebate, not just a deferral of tax payments as many other municipalities have done.

"We have some rainy-day funds, and this is the rainy day for some of our residents," Neal said.

Clarington's "rainy-day" budget for this purpose amounts to $2 million overall. However, Neal told CBC News he's open to raising that cap if demand warrants it.

Clarington is a municipality of about 92,000 people just east of Oshawa, Ont. The community's 30,000 or so taxpayers pay on average about $1,500 a year to the municipality, another $2,500 to Durham Region and about $1,000 to cover education, Neal explained.

"What we've done is come up with a rebate program for anybody that's going to get financially hammered, either working in a business that's been shut down, or owning a business that's been shut down."

Staff are expected to report back to Clarington council with more details on June 1.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario said it's unaware of any other municipality that's offering to waive a portion of property taxes.

John Henry, Durham's chair, says the region is already offering to waive late-payment fees on property taxes. But he's concerned that further breaks could leave the region unable to cover its costs. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

Neal said he'll take a similar proposal to Durham Region council on April 29.

But Regional Chair John Henry questioned the timing of Neal's proposal.

He told CBC Toronto that the region is still providing services to its residents, and those services cost money to deliver.

Henry said he wants to wait until municipalities have a clearer picture of what financial aid they can expect from the provincial and federal governments before committing to any new tax relief plans. 

Mayor John Tory says Toronto cannot afford a tax amnesty for property owners. He says the city is losing about $65 million a week during the crisis. (CBC)

"We have waived all late fees related to property taxes ... We have waived late payment fees on water and sewer," he said.

"If there's a need to have a discussion down the road, we can have it ... You don't want to spend a dollar you don't have, twice."

In Toronto, Mayor John Tory also said taxpayers shouldn't expect a similar break beyond payment deferrals already announced by the city.

As for a property tax amnesty? "We're just not in a position to do that," he said.

"Maybe Clarington is."

Clarington Coun. Ron Hooper, who operates his family's jewelry business, says the pandemic has been devastating for small businesses like his. (Mike Smee/CBC)

Neal said the plan for Clarington endorsed by councillors on April 14 has some limitations. For instance, he said, the rebate will only cover half of an eligible applicant's property tax bill, and it will only apply to Clarington's portion of the bill.

As well, he said the municipality is capping the total amount to be rebated at $2 million. He said the cost can be covered by the municipality's reserve fund.

'Huge impact on everybody'

One of the councillors who backed the plan, Ron Hooper, said he understands better than most the problems that small business owners are facing.

He owns a local jewelry store that's been in his family for 75 years. It has been shuttered since the province made all non-essential businesses close last month.

"Nowhere in any book does it tell you how to survive a pandemic, in regards to business," he said.

"I feel for everybody in business. This is going to have a huge impact on everybody ... If it goes on longer and longer, I don't know how anyone can survive."


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