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From the Desk of Chamber CEO Jill Raycroft Vacant Unit Rebate

In spite of the warmer weather bringing more visitors through the doors of the Log Cabin, we’ve been feeling rather isolated.  We’ve been without any incoming e-mail all week – and as we wrestle between where the problem is, the days have passed quickly.  If you have tried to reach us and we haven’t responded, hopefully your message will arrive now that the problem has been resolved.

Of course, when there is a problem, we look to the source to provide the solution.  Sometimes the source isn’t as evident as we might think.  Through a variety of conversations and the return on our survey regarding the Vacant Unit Rebate, there seem to be a couple of public opinions pressuring City Hall and Council to consider repealing the rebate. 

Problem 1: the downtown vacancies are supported by the vacant unit rebate, so if we get rid of the rebate, those owners will be motivated to renovate, repair and open for business.

Problem 2: the vacant unit rebate ends up costing residents because their taxes go up to balance the loss to the city in revenue.

In response to Problem 1 - from conversations I’ve had with the commercial property owners, the survey results and the City Treasurer, Brian Cousins – the Vacant Unit Rebate helps legitimate businesses with minor relief and very few, if any, of the downtown building owners are applying for or benefiting from the Vacant Unit rebate.  The vacant and deteriorating buildings downtown may be benefiting from a lower assessment value, but that is another issue completely.

The Chamber advocates the Vacant Unit Rebate be either maintained as status quo or with qualifications of eligibility based on “available to rent” or “under renovation” and waiving the rebate option for those with property that is not capable of being leased for immediate occupation because it was undergoing or in need of repairs or renovations, or was unfit for occupation. If there are any commercial property owners taking unfair advantage of the rebate for deteriorating property, this would impact those particular owners (if they are in fact, even taking advantage of the rebate).

While maintaining the status quo will continue to result in a loss of revenue to the City, in context, the 109 applications approved in 2016 resulted in $345,600 savings for commercial property owners – or on average, $3,171 per application – while they contribute nearly $23 million in taxes paid.

One owner presented the case that if they could rent their building at $1/square foot (going rates are closer to $10/sf) – it would generate revenue of $20,000 – the vacant unit rebate for that property is only worth $4,000.  The owners and managers of commercial properties present at the public information meeting were all very clear they would much rather rent their space than apply for a vacant unit rebate.

The rebate provides relief to those investors who provide the commercial property space where businesses are able to provide jobs, products and services to our community.