After five years of debate, reports, committee meetings and still more debate, Halifax regional council has finally put a final nail in the coffin of tax reform in HRM.

Council voted 13-10 yesterday in favour of dropping the controversial plan to switch from the current system — which bases municipal taxes on the assessed value of properties — to a “service-based” system that would charge residents receiving similar city services the same fees, no matter how much their property is worth.

Council had long been sharply divided on the issue. Those in favour of the change called it a fairer way of levying taxes, and promised lower-income households would get an increase in their tax rebate to offset any increases. But others argued it would mean wealthier residents of HRM would get major tax cuts at the expense of middle-income households.

Yesterday’s meeting was a testament to how contentious the issue has become. Tempers flared, fingers jabbed at the air and, at several points, the discussion turned personal.

“You say you’re defending the poor? You’re not. You’re defending the (current) unjust system,” bellowed Coun. Tim Outhit, who supported the reform plan.

“There is nobody around this table trying to put undo hardship on the poor, so let’s stop that nonsense right now.”

But Coun. Steve Streatch said he and other councillors who opposed the plan are “not trying to play Robin Hood,” only trying to avoid replacing one flawed system with another.

“When this first came to the council table, we all voted for it. But since that time, it has taken a deviation,” he said. “Bury it today.”

A small group of protesters showed up later in the afternoon to express its desire to see tax reform killed, only to find out it had already happened.

“It’s democracy in action,” said Larry Haiven, a management professor at Saint Mary’s University.

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