Sunday, March 13, 2016

Does Nova Scotia Value Artists?


Before I proceed with my latest tangent.  I would like to say that there is not a damn thing I am going to do about changing this rule.  It's legal, it sucks, I don't like it, but it is what it is.  My plate is full.  I'm busy trying to fix an error in the misapplication of the building code to Home Based Businesses right now and that's enough for me.  But this is related and I'm going to talk about it.

My home based business was recently assessed with Commercial Property taxes.  I really had a hard time understanding  how a a commercial property tax could be applied to a residential property, but apparently it can be.  Since this rule is not applied to Bed and Breakfasts, with the only explanation in the NS assessment act that Bed and Breakfasts with 4 rooms or less that include breakfast are residential properties, I figured that PVSC (the crown corporation that assesses properties in NS) must not be understanding that homes in exclusively residential zones are also residential properties and the small businesses within these homes do not change this fact.  But, I was wrong.  According to PVSC, one thing has nothing to do with the other and PVSC can apply their own definitions to businesses in homes, regardless of zoning.  That's the way it is. 

So, here's what I learned from my conversation with a commercial tax assessor at PVSC- As far as they are concerned, any home business other than a Bed and Breakfast is a commercial business and if they can find out about it, then they will apply a commercial property tax assessment to that portion of your home.  So, if you are self employed and you use a room in your house for writing or graphic design or for a consulting business or for teaching piano or producing crafts for your local farmers market,  this applies to you.

I asked her how they find out about these businesses and she explained it could be from a development permit, a sign, a web site, an advertisement a complaint or a brochure.  They have the right to enter your home to investigate.  She explained that it is part of their job description to actively find home based businesses by looking through various forms of media.  So, they can do this and they do do this. This happens all across the province.

Here's a little side story for you.  A couple of months ago I got a visit from a very likeable woman from Statistics Canada.  I was one of the handful of homes in Lunenburg picked for the Survey of Household Spending.  She sat with me in my studio a couple of times and asked me some questions.  How much do you make per year?  Under $25,000.  How much money does your husband make?  About the same.  How much money do you have saved for retirement?  Nothing.  Do you have any life insurance?  No.  Do you have any dental insurance or additional health insurance? No.
Lots more questions.  She looked at me and said, "You are pretty much like most people in Lunenburg County."  That really surprised me.  Somehow, I thought we were more impressive losers than everyone else. Nope, seems we are not the only ones that are never sure that we will have the money to cover the mortgage or how to pay for the heating bill or internet.  Every month is a lesson in faith.  I often stare at a pile of bills and choose the lucky winner according to which utility won't be turned off.

Now, don't get me wrong, every profession comes with its challenges.  I would not trade my life for anything.  If I was offered $100,000/yr to sit in a cubicle, I would not accept it.  Do, I consider myself poor?  No way.  I'm rich.  I live in a beautiful house in a beautiful town, I have a wonderful husband, a healthy, incredible child and one damn cute dog. I get to make women going through cancer treatment feel beautiful, I get to make the world a little more colourful.  I go for walks every day and we eat well.

O.K.  Anna, what's your point?  I think we have to think about whether or not we care if there are crafts people, artists, and musicians  in our towns.  If we insist that there is one level of commercial tax for all businesses, regardless of size, ability to pay or even what they are doing then this policy is not supportive.   Right now, we are valuing only the ability to pay.

 Is my value to Nova Scotia related to how much I can earn?  I don't think so.  If you head over to the Happy Blog you will see that I bring people into The Town of Lunenburg.  Creative industries attract people to this province.  But our value is not just in tourism dollars; it's also in what we bring to a community.  Think about what you love about Nova Scotia?  If the answer is Bayers Lake or Costco then you are dismissed, but if the answer is colourful, vibrant small towns filled with fishermen, folk artists, crafts people, farmers, furniture makers.....Well, then as a society we need to recognize that these professions are valuable and these professions make little money.

 It comes down to allowing me to exist.    (If you don't want me to exist, please visualize an artist you like) It comes down to allowing people to develop new businesses and recognizing that homes are incubators for new business ideas and people often run businesses from home to keep start up costs down.  It comes down to recognizing that there are many struggling people in our province and if they are trying to lift themselves up by running a one chair hairdressing salon in their home, then we should help them.  It's the right thing to do.  What happens if my property taxes go up by $800?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe I can swing it, I never know. But I'm on the edge.  It's onerous for me.  $800 might be nothing if you make $80,000/yr, but if you make $25,000/yr it's just one more bill that's hard to pay.

What's the consequence of businesses like mine facing expenses they can't pay for?  It's called the underground economy, and in the long run we all pay for this.  If a small home based business has to pay more property tax than they can afford then they might try to claim less sales to keep their taxes down.  That affects our health care and our roads.  Do you think you can fix this problem by just enforcing the rule?  Well, you can't draw water from a rock.  If the money isn't there, you aren't going to get it.  You'll just prevent the business from existing.  Super.  Now we have created poverty... and who pays for that?  You do. Your tax dollars pay for welfare and the medical costs associated with poor nutrition and the many other societal costs connected to poverty.  Is this making sense yet? 

I know, I know...Municipalities need property taxes to operate.  I sympathize.  I want the town to do well. I want the town to have enough money to properly fix our waste water treatment plant, so that people on Dufferin street can open their windows in the summer.   I think there's a better way.   Look at Lunenburg as a case study.  There are hundreds of self employed people in town, but only a handful of home businesses that are not hidden.  What if instead of penalizing a few with excessive property taxes, every home business was asked to pay $100/yr. as a business occupancy tax and as long as their business was less than 25% of the home their property tax did not change.   It would be reasonable and affordable and if there was something in it for the business like a listing on the town web site then you might find businesses willingly complying and it certainly would make enforcement a lot easier.  Don't we want to help people and create a strong local economy?  It's a win win. More revenue for the town and more potential revenue for the businesses.

But, like I said,  there is not a damn thing I'm going to do about this right now.  I'm busy at the moment and I don't have time to fight every bad decision that comes my way.  At the moment I'd rather pay the extra $800, hope I make it and have a little more time to hang out with my son. Nova Scotia's provincial and municipal governments can decide for themselves what they do or don't value and act accordingly.

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