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Tristan Cleveland is an urban planner who has also worked in Montreal, Guyana and Venezuela. Cleveland grew up in the south shore of Nova Scotia and has been an advocate for sustainable planning in Halifax since 2012.

Tristan Cleveland: city must move towards a 'tax scheme that helps Halifax, not Walmart'

Halifax should reduce the tax burden for local businesses found on main streets and not sprawling parks

Metro file

Good news.

Our new Halifax regional council has barely sat and already, the Nova Scotia government has cleared the way for them to make one of the city’s most needed reforms. As of last week, Halifax has the power to change how it taxes businesses.

Perversely, we have long taxed our local shops more severely than we tax big box stores. It’s crazy: in just about every way you measure it, business parks like Bayers Lake and Dartmouth Crossing cost us more and do less for our economy.

Walmart sprawls. Its property is the size of every single commercial property on the south side of Quinpool Road combined, plus two thirds of the street’s north side. Walmart pays, however, four times less property tax.

For cities, space is money. Nearly everything the city provides—road maintenance, pipes, plowing, garbage pickup, emergency response, police patrol, local parks, transit, etc—costs more the greater the distance between doors.

When we can fit more than 68 businesses inside the space of one business, it costs the city a heck of a lot less to service them. And yet, we charge them four times more.

It gets worse. Big box stores can only exist because of expensive infrastructure like highway interchanges and wide arterial roads. On Quinpool Road, many people just walk.

I could go on … and I will.

Main streets support entrepreneurship while business parks only support multinationals. Three times more of the money spent in local businesses stays in the local economy.

Local main streets improve health by making it viable for people to walk and take transit. People visit and move to cities for their main streets; they absolutely do not for their business parks.

Local main streets are a solution to climate change; car dependent business parks help cause it.

Given all this, it would be only right to reduce the tax burden for main streets that use land efficiently and that encourage walking, biking and transit.

Some who oppose reforming commercial taxes say it would mean the government has to pick winners and losers. The problem is that our tax scheme already picks winners, and right now that winner is Bayers Lake.

Taxes always favour someone, so let’s rebalance them to encourage businesses that improve health, lower our carbon impact, increase local identity, multiply local spending, and reduce costs.

This is our council, remember. If they represent us, let’s create a tax scheme that helps Halifax, not Walmart.

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