Tax payment a hardship for Islanders

I saw the news in December that described how the province was demanding late property tax payments be paid in full by Dec. 31 or face an interest rate penalty of 18 per cent. This is an astoundingly tone-deaf and outstandingly insensitive reaction to a completely unusual situation, which is of course, the international pandemic.

Being a single senior with a fixed, but nonetheless guaranteed, income living in rental accommodation, I do not have to be concerned about property tax payments and I also do not have to worry about the unexpected loss of employment income. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it must be for a young family with children to try and cope with the weight of their responsibilities especially if one or both are currently unemployed. The stress alone must be considerable and very hard to cope with. Perhaps one item of note here is that MLAs did not suffer any interruption in their income during the last few months.

I am not suggesting that the property tax debt be forgiven. The government could require a Record of Employment or family budget or other documentation to prove unemployment or a financial hardship for those homeowners still owing property tax payments at Dec. 31 in order to allow them to defer tax payments to the future. A payment plan could be set up. The government already has a number of tax deferral programs in place, one of those being the senior citizen program with certain conditions, allows seniors to defer taxes indefinitely with no interest accumulation; the amount is paid back when the senior passes or if the house is sold. This program could be reworked, on a temporary basis, to reflect the current situation in order to accommodate Islanders currently struggling to pay their taxes.

The second part of this apparent lack of concern for Islanders is the interest rate of 18 per cent being charged for late payments. The current bank rate (that being the interest rate charged by the central bank to commercial banks) is one-half percent. The current prime rate (that being the minimum interest rate charged by commercial banks to lenders) is only 2.45 per cent. So, one can assume that the government is either trying to make a profit on the backs of struggling Islanders or they are ruthlessly penalizing Islanders for a situation that is likely out of their control. If the government thinks it is necessary to charge interest, perhaps something slightly more than the prime rate would be in order.

This is a time when we need to be kind to each other; to help each other out when we can. One of the remarkable attributes that I have seen (being from away) is the compassion and kindness Islanders so easily and readily reach out to provide during times of crisis with their neighbours and to the general population too. Premier King, I urge you and your minister of finance to reconsider your decision and show some compassion during this extremely hard time. There are solutions which you and your cabinet can work on together to help your fellow citizens get through this pandemic with a little less stress.

Sharron Dunn

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