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St. John’s is telling some residents they must renovate their homes or pay nearly $700 extra in water taxes

St. John’s is telling some residents they must renovate their homes or pay nearly 0 extra in water taxes
St. John’s is telling some residents they must renovate their homes or pay nearly 0 extra in water taxes

Water taxes for seniors in St. John’s will double after the city revoked an exemption for homeowners who do not rent out a second residence in their home.

Sandra Nightingale, a senior living on a fixed income, says she is already struggling to afford the home on the city’s west side where she has lived for 50 years.

“Everything has gone up. I’m a single person going to the store and in my mind I’m like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God.’ Everything I look at. I don’t know how people do it with kids,” she said in an interview with St. John’s morning show.

Nightingale has a second unit in her home that she used to rent out. She said that as she got older — and had problems with tenants — the second unit became too difficult to manage. Now she uses the unit for storage. Every year, she fills out a form stating that she is not renting it out, and the city exempts the unit from water taxes.

But last fall, Nightingale was told the exemption was expiring, and her water tax would double to $1,350.

“It’s hard, you know? I mean, where do you suddenly get $700 out of thin air?” she said.

To exempt or not to exempt

According to St. John’s City Councilman Ron Ellsworth, the exemption was created about 20 years ago to help a handful of residents who weren’t using their second homes, but it has since grown to nearly 700 addresses.

“We are not allowed to grant exemptions. We are not allowed to do anything, only to apply the taxes that we are supposed to apply,” he said.

Ellsworth said he sympathizes with homeowners like Nightingale who are seeing their tax bill go up. But eliminating the exemption was the only way to ensure the tax was applied fairly.

The decision to eliminate the exemption came around the same time the city presented this year’s budget, which showed property taxes for average homeowners increasing by $240.

Ellsworth said homeowners can avoid the tax by deregistering their secondary units, a process that can require renovations. Among other requirements, homeowners must create an interior entrance between the main and secondary units and remove the furnace exhaust.

“Every home is different, every home is something special. I would therefore like to suggest that anyone who has a question contacts the municipality and speaks to our building and property managers. They can then come and view your home and determine what needs to be done with your home,” he said.

Nightingale said the process — particularly removing the stove — doesn’t make sense to her, and she has voiced her complaints to city staff and the council. She plans to sell her home, and said removing the second unit isn’t an option.

“Not a chance,” she said. “It destroys the value of the house, as far as I’m concerned.”

Ellsworth said the city will not reverse the decision, but that residents can call 311 if they have questions about the tax or to apply for financial assistance.

He said the additional money the city receives from the tax depends on the number of residents who convert their homes to single-family homes.

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