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Bruce Fisher on The Coast's tax reform analysis 

Fisher, Manager of Fiscal and Tax Policy, HRM responds to Tim Bousquet's article on Tax reform.

The Coast's recent "opinion" piece on the tax reform issue contains a number of errors and misleading statements that need clarification.

Property Tax Reform started not because of a south end Halifax lobby effort, but because the existing tax system was not serving its citizens well. As has been well-documented, the value of one's home has only a weak connection to municipal services or income. Based on what they saw as a deteriorating assessment-based tax system, regional council (almost unanimously) established a Tax Reform Committee to review the entire foundations of the tax system. Committee members came from across the municipality.

That committee undertook extensive public consultation, research, analysis and public debate. Most of The Coast's comments about the committee are factually incorrect or misleading. For instance, the committee never approved a two-kilometre local transit buffer, nor did it approve district-by-district solid waste tax rates. The cost of the Low Income Rebate is not an unknown. Its cost (an additional $7.2 million) was actually discussed at a public meeting more than 18 months ago. The continued use of the term "tax reform proponents" implies this was the Tax Reform Committee talking. In most cases such statements are incorrect or have nothing to do with the committee.

In its examples, The Coast carefully selects properties to show someone paying more. However, it fails to mention that some of these homeowners could be eligible for low-income rebates. This part of the proposal is a critical element that was rigourously analyzed and debated. With this rebate, the majority of low-income homeowners will pay less municipal property tax. Take, for example, the family cited in the article who is living on social assistance and have a home worth just over $100,000. The Coast claims their property taxes will rise more than 50 percent. However, a family with only social assistance and a $100,000 home in the urban area would pay less property tax, not more.

HRM has extensive information on tax reform online at halifax.ca/taxreform and will post additional details on The Coast's "opinion" piece. While The Coast is entitled to its own "opinion," I would challenge The Coast to provide more balanced reporting, less innuendo and more facts. As former US Senator Daniel Moynihan once said, you are entitled to your own opinion, but are not entitled to your own facts.

—Bruce Fisher, Manager of Fiscal and Tax Policy, HRM

Tim Bousquet responds: I was incorrect on the two-kilometre boundary, but that doesn't change my point that whatever distance determines the fee, it is an arbitrary, debatable opinion, not a hard fact defining access to bus service. As for the proposed low-income assistance program, it's probably unworkable, but if it's such a good idea, why not run it under the existing tax system? That way, the cost of the program will be supported mostly by wealthy people, not working people, as Fisher proposes.

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