In light of Mayor Mike Savage’s upcoming speech to Chamber members on the state of the city, here is what the Chamber will be looking for from Regional Council over the next year.
Reduce the Tax Burden
Halifax’s high commercial tax rates continue to be a major concern for our members. Specifically, they find it unfair that they are overtaxed for the services they receive compared to residential taxpayers. A December 19, 2012 city staff presentation to Halifax’s Audit and Finance Committee estimated that businesses in the city pay almost 150% of the cost of their municipal services, while residents pay only 85%.
The Chamber was disappointed that Regional Council directed staff proceed with a 1.8% increase to average residential and commercial tax bills for the 2015 budget. While this increase is in line with inflation, a tax increase is a tax increase and increasing prices as a result of inflation is a luxury not all of our members have. Your decision to direct staff to prepare a zero percent alternative budget was a good one, and we urge you to take a long hard look at this option and consider taking a strong stand for a competitive business environment by not raising average property tax bills next year.
Finally, in our pre-budget submission to Council earlier this year, we called on the city to do a thorough examination of the affordability and long-term sustainability of the city`s pension plan. We still believe this is an urgent priority and will look for progress over the coming year. Many of our members find it unfair that a large part of the city`s pension plan is funded by taxpayers, yet most of them do not have access to such generous plans themselves.
Champion Common Sense Regulations
When it comes to regulation, it too often feels like the city bureaucracy is working against our members rather than with them as they try to build their businesses. We are looking for the city to actively help businesses work through their issues and break down barriers. To build public support, the Chamber has released a ‘YES’ campaign to highlight the importance of an ‘open for business’ culture in Halifax.
Additionally, the long processing times for development approvals in Halifax have been a long-term concern for the Chamber and its members and the most recent figures suggest the problem is not getting better. This is not a new issue and the time has come for a detailed analysis of where the roadblocks are and what needs to be done to fix them.
Help Build a Vibrant Downtown Core
While existing development approval times are disappointing, we are hopeful that the city’s new Regional Centre Plan will provide faster, simpler, and more consistent development rules for the Regional Centre. Not only will this provide predictability for developers, it will make it easier for more people to live closer to downtown and to reduce costs for the city.
The Chamber has been very supportive of Halifax Transit`s efforts to redesign the transit system. While the recent announcement of a scaled back plan is concerning we are still expecting Halifax Transit to release a bold, on-budget plan in the new year that maximizes transit`s effectiveness in Halifax.
Mayor Savage’s recent proposal to allow permanent residents to vote in Halifax’s municipal elections was very encouraging. As a city, we need to make ourselves as welcoming as possible and allowing permanent residents to fully participate in our society is a great way to start. Even better, no other city in Canada has made such a change and moving quickly will allow Halifax to maximize the benefits of this initiative.