DAVID DELANEY: Property tax cut reveals lack of direction or leadership from Cape Breton Regional Municipality council

A recent decision by Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) council to reduce property taxes by five per cent, resulting in overall savings of three million dollars to residential payers and one million to business owners, has much debated both within and outside the council.

This debate seems to have focused exclusively on the standard matters raised when any tax cut, rare as they are, comes about. Principally, can government afford it, will it mean the reduction of necessary programs and pet projects, how sound was its planning and formulation, and so forth.

I plainly confess to being a proponent of tax reductions where they are well planned and respectful of the proper application and administration of necessary government services. Admittedly, this objective is sometimes difficult to determine and influenced by personal subjective biases and perceptions.

Persuasive case

Even though predisposed to favoring tax cuts, as well as smaller governments with more limited powers, I respected the content of the arguments made by those opposing this particular reduction.

In this respect, District 6 Coun. James Edwards offered a persuasive case why this cut should not occur. Edwards pointed out that foregoing $4 million in revenue while borrowing $8.5 million and seeking a further $15 million from the provincial government is hardly in keeping with sound administrative practices.

Speaking of the council’s approach to the matter he said, “the point is that we should have had the opportunity to properly plan, as opposed to scrambling to make the immediate five per cent fit.”

It’s a good observation, though is the mindset of this or any other government such that proper planning would necessarily lead to tax cuts? I suggest not despite the genuine efforts of Coun. Edwards and other like him who favor such cuts, though of a more limited and phased in nature. Sometimes a seemingly arbitrary note, discordant as it may be, must be struck in order to change the government’s traditional refrain.

Such is the case here, though this opportunity will be lost should council regard this as a conclusion and not beginning to a more generalized and consistent effort to further reduce taxes and operating costs. Such a position goes beyond one’s view of the role of government.

Weaknesses exposed

Rather, in the case of CBRM government, it is based on its state of municipal financial weakness and uncertainty. A weakness exacerbated and not reduced by a high tax burden on its citizens and an uncertainty contributed to by a government appearing unfamiliar with its role.

Smaller government for the CBRM is not a mere theoretical consideration. It is, instead, an empirical imperative.

What this issue exposed, however, was something much deeper and more telling than the merits of this particular tax cut. What it revealed was the lack of any strategy, any plan, any sense of direction or leadership from this council. It operates purely in the world of transactional politics. It lurches from one idea, one notion, one crisis to the next.

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