In a sign of Hamilton renewal, the city is scrapping a tax break for people who own buildings with vacant units in them.
But not everyone agrees on what to do with the money that will save.
'We could put $100 million in and it wouldn't solve the problem.' - Coun. Doug Conley
City council's general issues committee voted Wednesday to get rid of the vacant unit rebate program, which gives a tax rebate to property owners with units in commercial and industrial buildings.
That will save the city $2.5 million per year. Some councillors want that money to go to affordable housing, while others say it should be used to give taxpayers a break.
The $2.5 million will do little to ease taxpayers' burden, said Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor. The money would be better spent with a "targeted, focused budget allocation," he said. Councillors voted 8-5 to have staff report back on the feasibility of that.
Doug Conley of Ward 9, meanwhile, said taxpayers have been shouldering the program. Now they should get that money back, particularly since council made a recent decision to invest $50 million in affordable housing over 10 years.
"We could put $100 million in and it wouldn't solve the problem," he said. "We can't just throw everything that looks like a little savings back into housing. Sometimes when we have savings, we should let the people have the savings."
There was less argument around scrapping the program, seen as a throwback to a time when Hamilton had a lot less development.
Areas such as Barton and Kenilworth still need a little help, Merulla said. But the downtown is booming.
"There was a time we had the incentive program because we wanted to provide them a favour to do business here," he said. "We're beyond that now. Now we're doing them a favour to do business in the city."
In the past, the province has set the rules around the vacant unit rebate program, which reimburses property owners about 30 per cent of their taxes. Starting this year, the province is letting municipalities customize their own programs. That led to Wednesday's vote.
The city still has a rebate program for vacant/excess land, which it will examine next year. That would save about $3 million per year.
As for vacant units, the city will phase out the program over two years. Right now, property owners get a 30 per cent tax rebate. That'll drop to 15 per cent in 2018, and zero in 2019.
In 2015, 515 properties applied for the vacant unit rebate. Of those, 292 have applied for more than four years.
City council will vote on June 14 whether to ratify the decision.
Who voted to study the feasibility of putting the $2.5 million into affordable housing
Aidan Johnson (Ward 1), Jason Farr (2), Matthew Green (3), Sam Merulla (4), Tom Jackson (6), Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Judi Partridge (15), Chad Collins (5)
Who was opposed
Donna Skelly (7), Doug Conley (9), Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11), Lloyd Ferguson (12)
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