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At the most recent County Council meeting on July 19, Council authorized staff to proceed with the process to review and probably stop the current rebates on vacant properties.  Currently, if your commercial or industrial property is vacant, each year you can apply for a rebate of property taxes of 30-35%.  This despite the fact that your taxes are based on MPAC valuations and they will reduce valuations on vacant properties.  The loss of tax revenue from this kind of rebate for Cobourg was $124,625 in 2016.  This amount was recouped by a corresponding increase in taxes for residential properties.

Not only is the tax charged transferred from commercial and industrial properties to residential properties, but there is now less incentive for the owner to get it occupied.  As the county report puts it:

In some instances, vacancy rebates may provide an incentive for property owners to hold onto vacant properties for future uses or speculation; thereby, providing no productive use to communities and creating areas with chronic vacancies.  Ongoing vacancies inhibit economic growth, job creation, investment, and tourism.

This all started in 1998 when the Province (under Mike Harris) changed the way taxes were charged.  Before that time, owners of commercial and industrial  properties were charged municipal taxes plus an occupancy tax but the changes rolled these into a single municipal tax.  To “keep it fair” (that is, retain the status quo), the rebate was introduced which recoups the increase.  But MPAC then reduced valuations if properties were not occupied so owners received double reductions – the lower tax because of lower valuations plus the rebates: 30% for commercial and 35% for industrial properties.

In 2016, the Province revised the legislation and regulations and allowed Municipalities to decide whether to give rebates or not.  This is subject to holding public hearings then asking for the regulation to be changed.

County Council has now decided to proceed.  This first step will be to prepare a report of options then hold a public meeting with property owners and ratepayers. Note that their action will apply to all municipalities in the County. Their intent seems to be to proceed although the public meeting may come up with exceptions.

The biggest concern in Cobourg is the number of derelict downtown properties.  This should be one step towards helping this situation.

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