There’s a possibility Nanaimo’s business community could get some financial relief in the form of a commercial property tax freeze.
The proposal was put to council by Kim Smythe, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce CEO, in a presentation he made at a finance and audit committee meeting Feb. 17.
Smythe said Nanaimo’s business community has faced a myriad of negative impacts over the course of the pandemic.
“Beginning with a voluntary three-month closure in March 2020, followed by a slow return to local shopping, reductions in local consumer demand, increasing competition from a global online marketplace, continuing restrictions on food and beverage purveyors and an uncertain environment for 2021, our local businesses deserve all the help they can get,” Smythe said, reading from a proposal letter written to council.
According to a provincewide business survey conducted by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Nanaimo’s business operators are among the province’s most pessimistic about their economic futures.
“December’s report indicated that on Vancouver Island we have the lowest level of business optimism in the province, with 46 per cent of the businesses categorizing themselves as in poor or very poor shape,” Smythe said. “That’s almost half of all businesses who have a dismal outlook on their future here. When asked if they were pessimistic or optimistic about the next six months, 36 per cent said they were pessimistic or very pessimistic.”
The local chamber, Smythe said, is proposing that city council ask city staff to prepare a report with analysis of the impact of freezing tax increases on commercial rate payers for one year to help Nanaimo’s business community “catch back up” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“Putting a temporary freeze on commercial rate payers would show support for local business, would help shape the brand of Nanaimo as business-friendly and support new efforts at outreach for economic development,” Smythe said. “Most importantly, it would be a vote of confidence in the business community and perhaps strengthen their resiliency and resolve and encourage them to hold on just a little longer and maybe change that curve on their optimism and pessimism.”
Coun. Jim Turley motioned that council request city staff to study the potential of maintaining the commercial tax rate at 2020 levels, which was supported by all councillors except one. Coun. Tyler Brown said he did not see the sense in freezing commercial taxes for a single year because “it’s completely indiscriminate for whether a business is in need or not in need” and noted the city doesn’t control property assessment values, so even if a reduction were implemented, it’s still possible some businesses in need could see their taxes rise based on assessments.
“I would be supportive of looking at it, in the long run, as part of our overall taxation scheme, but definitely not as presented and as we’ve discussed today,” Brown said.
Krog said he appreciated the broader questions raised by Brown around taxation and long-term strategies, but said Nanaimo’s business community is hurting economically now.
“I think one of the purposes of the mayor’s task force was to look at longer-term strategies. We’ve just received an economic development task force report,” Krog said. “There are lots of big questions for us to look at, but right now the business community says, ‘We’re hurting and we’re hurting a lot and we’re asking for you to just do a little study on some relief,’ so I think it’s appropriate.”
The report will be presented to council when it reviews the city budget in March and April.