FALL RIVER: The area rate tax structure for the LWF Ratepayers Association (LWFRA) has left councillor Steve Streatch “uncomfortable” going forward.
That’s why the Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley representative on HRM Regional Council has asked HRM finance staff to perform an audit on where the money that is collected is going and whether residents of the LWFRA catchment area are paying a second tax on top of the general tax collected by HRM.
“I think greater scrutiny has to be given to all area rates,” said Streatch in a Jan. 18 interview with The Laker. “Area rates are obviously something that are a throwback to many years ago, back in Halifax County days for example, that have very slowly, but very systemetically, been phased out throughout HRM.
“There are now two or three left in District 1.”
He believes area rates do have a place if they’re administered properly. Streatch says in the case of the LWF area rate, his understanding is that it’s core function is to support the Windsor Junction Community Centre (WJCC).
“Until such time as we have another funding stream to replace it, then it will stay in place,” he said. “Currently, more money is collected from the taxpayers within the catchment areas of the LWFRA then is required to support the WJCC.
“I am not comfortable with that surplus being distributed outside of the discretion of the local councillor and the core mandate that the area rate was originally setup for.”
Streatch said a few weeks ago he asked the HRM finance department to begin an audit process to determine what the area rate surplus has been used for; what it’s supporting; and if indeed that still falls within the mandate of HRM and it’s ability to support community initiatives.
He gave an example asking if it was fair an equitable that certain groups, certain sports teams receive funding above and beyond the levels that other groups within this district or this municipality does, simply because an area rate is collected and has a surplus.
“The hard assets, sports fields, rec facilities, playgrounds, etc. are within the purview of HRM and its ability to fund with tax dollars,” said Streatch. “That already exists for every group and every community within HRM through separate funding streams.
Streatch is questioning whether taxpayers in the LWFRA are being dinged twice.
“Are the taxpayers within the LWFRA catchment area now paying twice for the same thing?” he wondered. “Some, in the community, have suggested to me that they are.
“The general tax rate collected by HRM from all taxpayers is used to fund those hard assets and sporting fields, facilities, etc. The operational costs, normally, are paid for by the young people’s families or fundraising or community activities. Is it proper that tax dollars are being collected to support some teams and not others simple because of your civic address?”
He hopes the answers to those questions and others he has will be flushed out very soon by the audit that is taking place.
“I was elected on a platform of lower taxes and greater transparency, and that’s what I intend to deliver,” said Streatch.