Higher mill rate for vacant commercial and industrial land (updated)

Lisa
Lisa Goudy
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Mayor Deb Higgins talks about the initiative for vacant commercial and industrial lands to have a mill rate factor 2.5 times higher than developed commercial and industrial property at the April 7, 2014 council meeting.

Vacant commercial and industrial lands are defined as “strictly vacant, empty land,” according to Brian Acker, director of financial services.

“Vacant commercial and industrial land is land that doesn’t have any improvements on it,” he said. “If there are improvements on it of any kind, then it’s not considered that … An example of that would be land that is used for a parking lot that has parking lot improvements in terms of pavement and parking stalls, that sort of thing, that’s classified as something different. So that is not vacant.”

Vacant commercial and industrial lands will see a mill rate factor 2.5 times higher than developed commercial and industrial property as of Monday’s council meeting. Acker estimated it will generate $260,000 in revenue to the city and that money will be reallocated to help develop commercial and industrial land.

“So it is revenue-neutral for the city,” said Acker.

But Coun. Brian Swanson said the initiative, which is the first of its kind in Saskatchewan, is “short-sighted” and “easily averted” by purchasing something like a small shed to put on the property and give it some foundation. Then the property might not be considered vacant.

“They have improvements and I would be the taxes on that shed will be considerably less,” said Swanson.

He added the properties are low assessed but only compared to a multiple-storey office building.

“Both that office building and these properties are assessed at market value. So it’s not that they are getting some break on their assessment,” said Swanson. “Their property is given an assessed value and then the city establishes a mill rate and they multiply that assessed value times the mill rate to get your taxes.”

He said according to the province, residential properties only have to pay 70 per cent of the value and commercial properties pay 100 per cent on the value.

“I can understand the intent of a new class for vacant land … but I call that punitive taxation,” said Swanson.

Mayor Deb Higgins said with 141 vacant commercial and industrial properties, the new initiative would make people think about what they want to do with the land.

“(It’s) a bit of an initiative for people to say, ‘Do I want to just sit on this piece of property or do I need to get serious (and) either sell it to someone who is willing to develop it or to develop it themselves?’” said Higgins. “There is a cost to the City of Moose Jaw when there’s vacant land sitting around. Also if it’s vacant lots within the city proper, it also means it’s lots that have services within range.”

She said council cancelled the speculative housing project because it was seen as “unfair” and “no longer needed.”

“Speculating on land is, I think, something that cities in Saskatchewan are dealing with on an ongoing basis,” said Higgins. “I think this would help to address that here in the City of Moose Jaw and open up a number of opportunities.”

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Moose Jaw

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