While Squamish officials hope the municipality’s new investment incentive program will spur economic growth, one councillor warned that the program will give breaks to the wrong sort of businesses.
Last week, the District of Squamish rolled out tax exemptions and fašade improvement grants targeting commercial and mixed-use developments in the downtown core, while focusing on industrial development in the Squamish Business Park. Modelled after Maple Ridge’s investment plan, which attracted $33 million worth of construction, Squamish’s initiative hands developers proposing projects worth $500,000 or more within the business park tax exemptions for the next three years. Downtown commercial development worth the same dollar figure is to receive the same break, while downtown mixed-use developments must be $1 million and up to earn the exemption.
The program aims to support the community’s downtown revitalization efforts, as well as supporting growth in the business park, Mayor Rob Kirkham said in a statement.
“The incentives provide an additional push to invest now, and will ultimately result in growth and new jobs for Squamish,” Kirkham said.
But Coun. Susan Chapelle said it’s a half-cooked plan. Officials are requesting a zero per cent municipal tax budget increase in 2014, while introducing tax incentives that would reduce the amount of money going into the municipal piggy bank, she said.
Last year, industry received a zero per cent property tax increase, while local business faced the brunt of the district’s tax jump at 15 per cent, Chapelle said. The incentive program will benefit big companies already at the table and leaving small local businesses in the same boat as last year, she said, noting several major projects are already slated for the targeted areas.
“Municipal tax is how we are paying for our failing infrastructure,” Chapelle said. “How do you think we are going to pay for this now?”
Instead, council needs to focus on removing red tape for new businesses, she said. There are 24 vacant spaces in the community’s heart, spaces that would be occupied sooner if rezoning wasn’t required for most downtown properties, Chapelle noted.
Such an incentive program is one of the few tools municipal governments can use to target area growth, Coun. Patricia Heintzman said. The plan copies a practice common throughout the country, she said, adding the bylaw can be rescinded at any point.
“This is a long-term gain,” she said, noting increased density and development will help the municipality address its infrastructure needs.