It seems commercial landlords in Belleville would like the city to continue with a tax rebate for vacant properties in some way, as potential changes are being discussed, with the program costing the city about $315,000 last year.
The current rebate program was imposed by the Ontario government province-wide in 2001, but individual municipalities are now able to tailor the rules to their own needs, eliminate the rebate right away, or phase it out over multiple years.
Of the 10 to 15 people who attended a public info session Wednesday night, most if not all of them, want the program to continue, saying the 30% to 35% rebate isn’t worth keeping properties empty for, but does make a difference in maintaining vacant buildings and attracting new tenants.
Some suggestions from the group included putting more restrictions on what properties would qualify, only accepting applications for properties that are fit for occupation, or undergoing repairs and eliminating properties that are unfit, or need major renovations before a prospective business tenant could move in.
There was also a suggestion to limit habitual landlords, who haven’t used the rebate to improve their properties at all or attract a tenant, after receiving it multiple years in a row.
The current rules say a commercial property, or part of it, just needs to be vacant for 90 days to qualify.
Director of Finance Brian Cousins says the city doesn’t have a position currently and will continue to take feedback on the rebate program until he tables a report for council decision in the fall.
In 2016 109 landlords applied for the rebate, costing the city about $315,000, with about $243,000 lost in education taxes.
In Quinte West, a recommendation has been made to continue the program as is, but it’s only costing that city about $55,000 annually.