Trenton council faced backlash from residents Monday at the first of two public information sessions held to keep the public apprised of plans to change the town’s property tax system.
A majority of guests at the first information session expressed disapproval of the proposed changes, which include a separate solid waste management charge, and fire protection and pollution control levies.
A number of municipal services – including solid waste collection and disposal, wastewater and fire hydrant services – would be removed from the calculation of property taxes, and will be charged as user fees.
One of the more than 20 residents who attended expressed the concern that the new system would force her to pay more for garbage services, even though “we put out half a bag, every two weeks. We should be paying less, not more,” she said.
Mayor Shannon Macinnis said the new system for garbage would be fairer than one that is based on home assessment, and that the current system has a discrepancy, noting that “everyone is allowed four bags and a green bin. That says to me that everyone should pay the exact same amount for garbage pickup.”
“That doesn’t make much sense,” said the resident. “I’m not the one generating the garbage.”
Another resident said that owners of lower-assessed homes having to pay more would lead to difficult consequences for people on fixed incomes. MacInnis said a way to combat that would be measures the town plans to take to raise the low-income tax exemption.
Many residents criticized the implementation of the levies as unfair and specifically unfair to Trentonians with homes that have a lower assessment value, and were very disappointed in what they saw as a lack of proper consultation and notice from the town.
However, not all residents were against the system. One homeowner from Little Harbour Road, an area that stands to benefit from the change since it doesn’t get some of the services other parts of Trenton receive, said he will be getting “a bit a reprieve,” and that he is welcoming the changes, given that he spent over a decade trying to get his property reassessed, “to no avail.”
Others were concerned that the levies would create higher tax bills, and discourage people from moving to Trenton, despite the assertion of the mayor and council that the new taxation system will give Trenton an advantage over other communities.
A member of council was among those who rejected the new levies. Coun. Don Hussher insisted the change was like standing on the “edge of a cliff,” and that if things proceeded at the speed they were, “some people are going to have a very hard landing.”
Hussher insisted service fees would complicate things fiscally, and that people with lower-assessed houses would suffer. He urged council to take a more cautious and gradual approach.
Trenton CAO Brian White gave residents a thorough explanation of how the new system would work, and how it would affect individual property owners noting that, in general, property tax bills would decrease – and water and sewer bills would increase.
According to information released from the Town of Trenton, the changes would result in commercial properties having similar or somewhat lower taxes.
MacInnis said he was expecting some backlash from the session, noting that “whenever you try to implement change, you’re going to come up against some resistance.”
MacInnis emphasized that Trenton is aiming for the fairest system, noting that keeping the current system would be unfair.
White said that while there was a lot of opposition and concern at the afternoon session, “the evening session was weighted toward the more positive side,” with more people expressing their approval and optimism about the changes in the tax system.
“There were a number of people supporting going ahead with it, and quite a number of comments (at the evening session) were similar to the afternoon session,” said White in a call with The News. “Some people were saying we should slow it down a bit, and that lower-income people would be negatively affected. There were also some business reps who said it was ‘about time,’ and that they had been looking for such a positive move for some time.”