By Mark Squibb | June 10, 2021
A recent provincial government directive handed down to the Town of Witless Bay has Paradise councilor Alan English questioning staff on the town’s own policies.
During the June 1 council meeting, English noted he had read ‘Province makes Witless Bay eliminate seniors tax discount,’ published in The Shoreline on May 27.
In that article, Witless Bay CAO Pat Curran explained the Municipalities Act does not provide councils with the authority to offer a discount based on age. Curran figured the Department of Municipal Affairs flagged his town’s discount during a recent annual municipal review.
The Department of Municipal Affairs confirmed to The Shoreline that there indeed is no provision under the Act to allow discounts on the basis of age. However, a Department spokesperson also acknowledged there is no provision in the Act regarding an actual enforcement policy.
“I haven’t spoken to anybody at Municipalities (NL), but it seemed to me, that the gist of the article, was that we may be in contravention of the Municipalities Act, with respect to the Seniors Discount,” said English. “That should be explored to ensure that we’re not.”
Town CAO Lisa Niblock noted those discussions were happening during the budget process.
“That has been discussed during budget at council before,” said Niblock. “We have brought that to the attention of council before, how the Act is written and what we are currently doing. Right now, the best practice for other municipalities is to ask for Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) papers, and provide it based on income support for residents, rather than age. So, that is something that we’ve already made note of for budget discussions in 2022 that our council may have to consider.”
English then questioned whether that approach would also be a contravention of the Act.
“What surprised me, more so than anything else in the article, was that it implied that the seniors discount based on income was also in contravention of the Act,” said English.
Mayor Dan Bobbett said the Town would follow up with Municipal Affairs.
Niblock, meanwhile, said that so far as she knew, it was acceptable to provide a discount based on income, such as when a recreation program discount is given to a lower-income family.
“Council is allowed to pass a motion to allow those things,” said Niblock. “So, it would be similar to that.”
English said that, as per the article, the discount based on income could only be given if the individual specifically requested the discount. Niblock said that would be the process followed.
“We would ask them to fill out a request for the discount, and then they would have to provide the necessary documentation and the discount would be given based on council’s approval of a certain monetary percentage, like 20 percent or 15 percent,” said Niblock. “So, we have that noted for this year for discussion. I read the article as well, and Director (Terrilynn) Smith and I had further conversations, so it’s definitely something we need to address,” said Niblock.
She added that should council require documentation, the discount could potentially be applied not just to seniors receiving the GIS, but also low-income households as well.