AS the property tax deadline looms on Tuesday, at least one North Vancouver business owner says her tax increases have become unacceptably high.
"I usually budget a three to five per cent increase," said Sheila Roote, whose company owns and manages three warehouse buildings on Roosevelt Crescent, in addition to managing two similar buildings on Churchill Crescent. But this year, when she opened the tax notices, Roote said she was shocked to see an increase of anywhere from seven to 15 per cent.
"I thought I'd see an increase. I just wasn't expecting that big an increase," she said.
Roote said those increases are passed directly on to tenants - including a non-profit group that provides services for residents with special needs.
Now they - and the other tenants - are being stuck with an unexpected extra bill that's increasingly difficult for them to absorb, said Roote.
"For one of our tenants, it translated into a bill of more than $4,000," she said.
Roote's tax notice for one of the properties her company owns on Roosevelt Crescent showed total property tax - including those collected for other agencies like the provincial school tax and levies collected for Metro Vancouver - jumped over $2,400, from $23,993 to $26,398 between 2011 and 2012 - an increase of 10 per cent.
The District of North Vancouver taxes made up about half of that bill.
In the past four years the total tax bill for the property has gone up $6,817 - a more than 34 per cent increase from 2008.
Roote said water and sewer charges have skyrocketed and businesses are also being charged for services like fire inspections.
Recently, Roote wrote to the District of North Vancouver, protesting what she described as the runaway taxes and fees on commercial and industrial buildings.
Roote said if the cost of doing business becomes too great on the North Shore, businesses will be forced to move elsewhere.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business shares Roote's concerns that local business is shouldering an unfair share of the tax burden, pointing out recently that businesses pay between two and five times the property tax of residential properties, but frequently don't get the same services.
The business group singled out both North Vancouver municipalities as charging businesses property tax rates at what it described as unacceptably high levels compared to residential tax.
According to the business group, most municipalities across B.C. pay property tax rates of about 2.78 times that of residential owners.
In the District of North Vancouver, however, businesses - which fork over about 17 per cent of the taxes in the municipality - pay almost 3.6 times the rate of residential properties.
Roote acknowledged the major factor in her own tax increase is the soaring assessed value of her property.
The Roosevelt Crescent property, for instance, increased in value from $1.12 million in 2008 to $1.57 million in 2012 - an almost 45 per cent hike. In the past year, that property has gone up 14 per cent in value.
That compares to an increase of 16 per cent for that property type as a whole between 2008 and 2012 and of six per cent in the past year.
Nicole Deveaux, director of finance for the district, said that's not something the municipality can address.
If a property rises in value much faster than similarly classified land, that owner will end up paying higher taxes.
The only way around that is to appeal the value of the land to the assessment authority directly.
Roote said she didn't do that because she didn't think she'd be successful - assessed values for the entire neighbourhood have gone up.
Deveaux said the district has been paying attention to what business owners are saying - and trying to make the tax burden fairer between different classes of taxpayers.
The business tax rate itself - the amount charged per $1,000 of property value - is now below the average charged across Metro Vancouver, she said.
Deveaux said the other thing taxpayers sometimes overlook is that almost half of their property tax bill is made of collections for other governments, not set by the municipality.
"That's the part that we constantly try to explain," said Deveaux.
Deveaux said pencil sharpening at district hall over the past few years reduced costs by about $4 million, saving taxpayers what could have been an approximately six per cent increase.
"We've been tightening our belts, just like the rest of the world," she said.