St. John's blending downtown levy with commercial taxes — but not all are in favour

Gary Locke/CBC

The City of St. John's is going to help the downtown development commission collect its annual levy.

The two groups introduced the change in a press conference Wednesday, announcing the incorporation of the downtown business improvement levy into the city's commercial mill rate. 

Downtown St. John's vice-chair Byron Murphy said the blending of the levy and mill rate is not a tax increase, adding that most businesses downtown will continue to pay the same or less in taxes that they currently do.

However, one downtown business owner says he has some concerns about the move.

"It feels sort of well meaning on the face of it, but it makes me a little bit uncomfortable," said Bob Hallett, owner of Erin's pub and outspoken critic of issues relating to the downtown.

Hallett said he's worried that collaboration between Downtown St. John's and city hall will weaken the group's advocacy for the area.

"My hope for the downtown commission is that it remains its independence," Hallett said. "It's a powerful lobbying force, and it stands as a bulwark against the council's whim and neglect of downtown St. John's."

CBC

According to a press release from Downtown St. John's, blending the two taxes will streamline the billing process for businesses. Instead of receiving two bills from the city, businesses will now receive one blended bill.

Murphy said the change is being made because new businesses often want to join the organization but don't know about the levy, which is used for the beautification of the downtown, including lighting, special events and parades.

"We just had a tremendous amount of businesses down here who have opened up over the last four or five years that haven't had an opportunity, they didn't know," Murphy said.

"Because the billing wasn't, you know, it was up to, I guess, themselves or the building owner to make suit with the city that we have a new business and they want to pay the [levy]. So I think a lot of it came from that."

Now, he said, the bill will go to the building owner, who will pass it along to the tenants.

"It allows the property owner to equitably drive that through all his tenants and they all get a bill and they all become part of the association."

If [tenants] want to belong to the association, that should be their choice. - Bob Hallett

Hallett said he doesn't like the idea of business owners collecting the money from tenants, saying the whole situation makes him nervous.

"Now I have to somehow extricate the money from tenants, who, I can tell you, already very many of them are very, very heavily pressed downtown. And this new levy will not be greeted with any enthusiasm," Hallett said. "I feel like the city is doing this without any consultation."

"If [tenants] want to belong to the association, that should be their choice. Unfortunately now it's not going to be their choice. It's going to be imposed on them."

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