The Resort Municipality of Whistler is taxing businesses at a rate that's disproportionate to what residents are being charged.
That's according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which in June issued a report that stated the RMOW is taxing businesses at 3.68 times the rate it taxes residents.
An accompanying news release noted that an average Whistler property, whose value was estimated at $1,263,660, would be assessed $5,165 in taxes if it was residential but a business would pay $19,016 on a property with the same value. The report went on to say that Whistler is the "37 th worst municipality" in British Columbia for how much tax they charge businesses over residents.
Brian Bonney, the CFIB's director for provincial affairs in British Columbia, said in an interview that the federation did a survey of 160 municipalities in B.C. using data from the provincial government.
It found that the average rate B.C. municipalities charge business property over residential property has increased substantially since 1990. Twenty years ago municipalities taxed business properties about 1.8 times higher residential properties.
"Over the last two decades, that's increased to where the average is 2.94 times more, so almost three times more," he said. "So it's gone from 1.8 to more than three times more, it just shows you what's been going on in every municipality. Municipalities have been looking at small- and medium-sized businesses as cash cows."
The CFIB is thus asking that municipalities start raising residential property taxes slowly in order to bring them closer to what businesses pay. Bonney said the CFIB "doesn't want mayors and councilors to do this overnight" because residential taxes would have to go up exponentially.
He is, however, calling for what he sees as a more equitable system between businesses and residents.
"We're asking cities to freeze the gap between what they charge residents and businesses and slowly reduce it to where businesses pay no more than double what residents pay," he said.
A spokesperson with the RMOW said in an e-mail that the business tax rate is $8.085 per $1,000 of assessed value, while residential property taxes are $2.3482 per $1,000 of assessed value. That means the gap is closer to 3.45, rather than the CFIB's estimate of 3.68.
Whistler's property taxes were raised in 2009 after a recommendation in its Long-Term Financial Plan stated that a 20 per cent increase between 2009 and 2011 would be necessary to maintain the current level of municipal services and provide "infrastructure maintenance and replacement."
The raise included an eight per cent increase in 2009, seven per cent increase in 2010 and four per cent increase in 2011.
The spokesperson went on to say that businesses pay a greater share of municipal property taxes because they use and access more services such as water and roads than do residential properties.
Bonney challenges that assertion.
"There was a study done in the City of Vancouver that showed that businesses consume less services from a municipality," he said. "In some cases up to 50 per cent less than what residents consume for the taxes that they pay. So businesses consume less services, but we ask them to pay more."
The spokesperson with the RMOW also said that calculations from the municipality's finance department indicate that the business-to-residential tax ratio is lower than the midpoint among B.C. communities. Whistler has calculated a midpoint of 3.9 and noted its own was 3.47 in 2009.
Some hotel units in Whistler are assessed at commercial rates for the period they are rented and at residential rates when they are not being used. For those units, occupancy levels can impact the municipality's income from business and residential taxes.
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