Property taxes were due July 2 and most Langford residents probably didn’t even notice the nearly four-per-cent increase on their bills. But at least one local business owner is fed up with what he believes to be an unfair tax burden.
“Langford has always kept their residential taxes low,” said Ron Cheeke, owner of the Log House Brew Pub and Liquor Planet. But that has come at a great cost to local businesses, he said, noting the high cost of doing business in Langford makes it hard to keep their doors open every month.
“Langford built itself on commercial enterprise,” Cheeke said, adding the cash flow generated from the commercial sector has basically paid for most of the residential amenities and facilities in the area. “That’s driven the residential (development) out here.”
Langford director of finance Steve Ternent disagrees.
“Probably just as much of our infrastructure has been paid for by amenity fees paid by developers,” he said. The so-called “big-box” stores have also paid a significant amount, Ternent added, and usually they have to upgrade their surrounding infrastructure before building on a site.
Commercial properties contribute about 37 per cent of the total tax collected by the city, with about 61 per cent coming from the residential sector. The remaining portion is received from farms, utilities, and other properties not classed as residential or commercial, Ternent said.
He pointed out that while property tax increased about 3.9 per cent this year, Langford residents and businesses still generally pay less than other areas. Ternent attributes the tax hike, in part, to a slight decline in property assessment values – which are dependent on the market – and an increase in operating expenses.
While Cheeke said his commercial property taxes have pretty much stayed the same over the past few years, he’s always felt they’ve been on the high end of the spectrum.
“It may be time Langford took the forefront on tax incentives for business,” he said.
“It’s really difficult to compare,” Ternent said, adding there isn’t much uniformity on commercial properties. But when looking at how much tax is applied to a specific assessed value, “generally speaking, we’re lower than the average.”
Coun. Lillian Szpak confirmed that Langford has the third-lowest commercial property tax in the CRD, and the second-lowest residential property tax.
“We work really hard to make Langford attractive for business owners,” said Szpak, who is also the vice-chair of the City’s administration and finance committee. She hadn’t previously heard any complaints about commercial property taxes. “Langford is one of the most affordable places in the Capital Region District to have a business.”
She said the City has even won awards for some of its tax incentives and breaks offered to businesses.
One is the business licence program, under which operators don’t have to pay for their business licence every year as long as it is their existing business.
“We’ve been really creative … to keep our expenses down and our taxes down,” she said, noting that there wasn’t a drastic increase even though a pool and new library are in the works for Langford. “Normally, we keep it at the cost of living.”
She suggested that some businesses might see a spike in their bill if the assessment value of their property has drastically gone up. Szpak said that could be a possibility with some of the beautification programs the City is working on.
When it comes to new facilities and amenities, she said “every single taxpayer in Langford could say they have contributed.”
Each year the City of Langford collects approximately $43 million in taxes from more than 12,000 properties, but according to Ternent, the City only keeps about 44 per cent of that. The rest is collected on behalf of other authorities, including the Capital Regional District, the Capital Regional Hospital District, the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, B.C. Assessment Authority, Municipal Finance Authority and the province through school taxes.
These authorities set their own tax rates and Langford must pay even if property owners have not paid their property tax.