PORT HOOD: Hours after the province announced last week that it was scrapping one non-resident landowners tax but keeping the other, Inverness Municipal Council was forced to react.

On May 3 during the State of the Province, Premier Tim Houston said the tax regulations were updated to consider military families, the owners of small cottages, and clarify the tax for vacant residential land owned by non-residents.

“We love our seasonal residents, and we will continue to show them our Nova Scotian hospitality and welcome them with open arms, but my main concern is for the people who are or want to live here year-round but can’t afford a place to live,” Houston said. “We are positioned to grow in every region, but we need housing. This is one way our government is addressing the housing crisis and these changes respond to concerns we have heard from Nova Scotians.”

As a result, all vacant residential land owned by non-residents will be taxed at two per cent regardless of the assessed value, the province noted.

“We are listening to the feedback we have received and believe that these changes reflect some of the concerns raised by non-resident property owners,” Allan MacMaster, Minister of Finance and Treasury Board said. “We expect regulations to be finalized this spring.”

Two days later, Houston announced that his government will not be moving forward with the non-resident property tax.

“My intentions all along were to improve home affordability, not to be at odds with our core value of being a welcoming province,” said Houston. “I have heard for months from Nova Scotians who are concerned about housing affordability and want to be able to buy their first home. I commit to finding a tool to make it more affordable for first-time home buyers.”

The province said the non-resident deed transfer tax will proceed as planned for all non-residents who own residential property in Nova Scotia.

On the agenda for the regular monthly meeting on May 5 was a letter from Damian MacInnis opposing the taxes.

“We’ve been taking a proactive approach with our residents when they contacted us over this non-resident property tax, and providing help where they could provide feedback to the government, and appropriate departments,” Warden Bonny MacIsaac noted.

District 5 Councillor Lynn Chisholm said it was good that the province decided to change course.

“I think this is great news,” she stated. “It is such a concern to so many residents. There was a lot of emailing, and phone calls. There was different scenarios and it concerned many people, and a lot of them were residents with families here so I’m really happy to see this changed.”

District 4 Councillor John MacLennan agreed and suggesting council write a letter thanking the province, and suggested that if this issue arises in the future, rural areas be consulted.

“It’s great that they got rid of it, but at the same time you have to look at the fact they were hitting the rural areas. How many people away from here have a summer home in downtown Halifax, nobody. It’s just nailing the rural areas,” he said.

Pointing to concerns about the collection of such taxes, which MacIsaac shares, Deputy Warden Catherine Gillis asked for more information from the province.

MacIsaac said she did receive calls in support of the new taxes.

“Not all the calls that we did receive, I have to say, were against it either. That’s the interesting thing; we did get people that were for the tax, which was interesting. Not as many but we did get some from both sides,” she said.

But District 1 Councillor Claude Poirier said he heard only opposition.

“I received a lot of comments, and they weren’t for, they were all against,” he told council.

Chief Administrative Officer Keith MacDonald said staff will contact provincial officials to get more information on the tax that remains in place.