Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Assessment freeze, tax deferral useful stopgaps

How bad is it going to get in British Columbia?
And who is going to take the brunt of the beating as the economy reels from the collapse of a global financial system that proved as sturdy as a house of cards built by a distracted five-year-old?
Premier Gordon Campbell's newest proposals suggest things could get considerably worse, although that might also be a tactic. The Liberals appear to be road testing a campaign strategy based on convincing people that times are scary, and the New Democrats are too risky to put in power.
Campbell unveiled the latest plans to deal with the economic crisis at the party's convention in Whistler. They make sense, although Campbell's speech might also have raised some false hopes about the government's intentions.
The government decided to abandon the annual property assessment reviews this year. The July 2007 assessments will be used when municipalities and the province decide how much property and school taxes individual owners should pay.
That means some wasted work. The B.C. Assessment Authority was taken by surprise by the announcement. It had been reviewing property values across the province to come up with this year's revised assessments.
But the change offers some advantages. Given the big clouds over real estate markets, many owners would likely have challenged assessments that were based on values before the market dropped.
That would have meant a lot of appeal hearings and problems for municipalities, which would have had to set mill rates while assessment roles were uncertain.
Some people have interpreted the plan as a freeze on property taxes. It's not. The assessment freeze means each homeowner's share of property taxes won't change.
But towns and cities will still set a mill rate that provides the revenue they end.
And in every municipality, that will be higher than last year's rate. Assessments won't change, but taxes will go up.
Campbell also promised legislation that would allow many owners to defer their property taxes in each of the next two years.
People with at least 15-per-cent equity in their homes - say not more than a $250,000 mortgage on a home assessed at $300,000 - can defer taxes.
They will have to sign a form saying that paying property taxes would be a hardship and agree to pay interest at prime, about four per cent this week. They can pay when they like or the province will collect the money when the property is sold. (People over 55 can already defer property taxes.)
It's a reasonable plan. The province will cover the lost revenues for municipalities. Taxpayers face some administration costs and perhaps a little interest, plus any bad debt risks.
And homeowners in a jam get a small reprieve for two years.
Forest Minister Pat Bell pitched the benefits to forest communities. People who had lost their jobs and couldn't pay their property taxes would get help in hanging on to their houses.
But then what? Are the forest jobs coming back? Or are people just going to be deeper in debt, with houses they can't sell and no prospects?
That part, especially given the current economic turmoil, is far from clear. And the government hasn't offered any specific vision for forest communities coping with weak markets and decades of limited logging to come because of the pine beetle disaster.
Campbell also tested a campaign slogan at the Whistler convention - "Keep B.C. Strong."
The idea is to portray the NDP as a reckless choice in difficult times. Campbell talked a lot about the incompetence of the NDP government in the 1990s.
And the Glen Clark government was hopeless. No plan, incompetent management, just dismal.
But that was 1999. Some 550,000 of today's voters were in high school. About 180,000 voters who were married then, aren't today.
Are they really remembering 1999, when Ricky Martin was living La Vida Loca?
Footnote: For political types, this is all fascinating. The Liberals should be in a strong position - times are mostly good - but next May's election result seems surprisingly uncertain. Voters are leery of Campbell, for vague reasons. That makes it very difficult for the Liberals to figure out how to build a successful campaign.


Anonymous said...

Vague reasons?

How about thse as a start of some "non vague" reasons.

Governs as the CEO of a private organization (BC Liberal Party) rather than the leader of a political party in a parliamentry democracy. See- no legislative session.

Is an arogant "CEO" who surrounds himself with high paid cronies and yes men paid from the public purse.

Spends my tax payer dollars on political ads under the guise of dissemninating government information.

That is a start. I am sure other can add to the list.

Anonymous said...

"How bad is it going to get in British Columbia?"

Factories are closing all over China; Ships are waiting in Singapore for cargoes that will not arrive; Spain, UK and all other EU property prices continue to nosedive; India property prices are collapsing, car sales have all but stopped and their nascent middle-class is being decimated; Dubai is having to borrow money to finish an orgy of construction projects; South America is sputtering to a halt; Iceland is bankrupt...

This depression is going to be long, deep and dark - BC will not escape its clutches.

The regions that will weather this storm best are those than can sustain themselves the best: 100 mile diet? energy? transportation? social safety net?

The regions that rely on imports or exports and have no individual safety nets will suffer the most.

Anonymous said...

A thought. Could it be Campbell is trying to prevent another group of home owners from being eliminated from the Home Owner's and Age grants? After all so many of these folks get really upset when they now have to pay the FULL tax load. And most a seniors in very expensive property in very expensive locations. Just asking.