Sound evidence and reasoning are the foundation to making sound decisions.
It is the principle that has guided our work at Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce. It is the principle that has steered the work of our governments as well.
Yet, on Oct. 7, St. Catharines city council narrowly voted to ignore both a staff recommendation and their own guidelines and declined to extend community improvement plan incentives (CIP) to a Port Dalhousie development.
Since then, the CIP has been erroneously referred to as a gift or a transfer of money from the taxpayers to the developer. This is not the case. The guidelines that were set out, and under which this business applied for the program, would simply reduce the property taxes collected for 10 years to incentivize the development of a property that nobody wanted to develop under the current rules. If I ask you to give me $20 for something, and we negotiate and agree that you’ll give me $15, I haven’t gifted you $5.
The property has sat unused for many years, during which time the city has collected about $35,000 each year in property taxes. If this project had been started then, the city could now be collecting $455,000 a year.
This is the point of the CIP program. Collecting less taxes now, and more later, is better than collecting no taxes now and no taxes later, or for a long time, in the hope that a developer will step forward and build or renovate a property on lands that, without incentives, have failed to generate any interest.
It’s like a sale price. Often vendors put their slow-selling products on sale, knowing that getting a lesser price for them is better than not selling them at all. And we know that offering a discount is not the same as giving away money.
What city council did was akin to putting an incentive on a product that wasn’t selling, and then, when a buyer came forward, changed their minds and attempted to sell the product for full price. It’s a bait-and-switch, and if we wouldn’t trust a vendor who pulled a bait-and-switch on their customers, why would businesses trust a municipal government that pulled a bait-and-switch on developers? It sends a message that businesses can’t believe the word of the government of St. Catharines.
This gets us to the main issue. City council can set the rules, and it can change the rules, but it should not break the rules. Business depends upon trust. Trust depends upon doing what was promised.
And therefore, we ask of council: follow your rules. Apply them consistently and without prejudice. And if policies require changes, implement those in a fair, timely and transparent manner.
Mishka Balsom is chief executive officer of Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.