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Campbell River backs away from pulling art gallery tax support

Gallery’s taxes will be ‘covered’ in return for development of a positive relationship
The Campell River Art Gallery. Photo by Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror

With city council chambers packed with supporters of Campbell River Art Gallery and downtown’s unhoused population Campbell River city council backed down from what some were calling an attempt to punish the non-profit operation for its support of the homeless.

At the Thursday, Oct. 12 city council, Mayor Kermit Dahl explained to the gallery — many in traditional First Nations dress — that, “we’re gonna work with your chair, starting tomorrow to get your taxes covered. We’re gonna work on an agreement with your chair.

“Everyone else (receiving permissive tax exemptions) has returned back to 100 per cent. And the Campbell River Art Gallery’s chair is committed to working with city staff and council to build back a positive relationship. And when that happens, they’ll be rewarded.”

Campbell River council had come under fire for its plan to remove permissive tax exemptions (PTEs) from the art gallery and the overdose prevention site, describing them as “poor neighbours” that have an “extreme detrimental effect on businesses and visitations downtown” for their permissive policies and practices regarding the city’s unhoused.

The plan generated a flurry of letters to the city from art gallery supporters and even a rebuke from provincial housing minister Ravi Kahlon.

“Attacking people who are trying to be good neighbors and trying to address that challenge in the community is not the way to go about it,” the minister said in Kelowna last week.

READ MORE: Minister slams council ‘attack’ on art gallery, overdose prevention site

READ MORE: Art gallery tax exemption hit; called poor neighbour, detriment to downtown

Council was due to pass exemption removals at the general city council meeting but met with CRAG chair Denise Mitchell prior to the meeting. During the meeting, council rescinded an amendment that would have reduced all 100 per cent PTEs to 90 per cent and any PTEs less than 100 per cent by a similar prorated amount. Previous PTE rates were restored.

And at the same meeting, the removal of the PTE for the Campbell River Art Gallery was acknowledged but council committed to working with the organization on a “productive solution and path forward, which could see the 2024 property taxes funded through Council Contingency,” a statement from the city issued following the meeting says.

READ MORE: Art gallery call for support strikes a nerve amongst letter writers

Council’s actions left CRAG executive director, Sara Lopez Assu, who had put out an email call for letters of support, feeling hopeful. Her call for support resulted in hundreds of letters being sent to city hall prior to the meeting.

”Last night led to a hopeful result. The not-for-profit sector at large was spared their tax exemption reductions, which was a relief for many,” Lopez Assu said. “We still lost ours but council has committed to working with the gallery to find solutions, including using the city’s Contingency Fund to cover our taxes should those discussions be constructive. Those are positive outcomes that we’re grateful for.

“There were some good conversations with a few city officials leading up to the meeting, including with some Hereditary leaders of the We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations. We also appreciated the council’s interest in allowing us to present. At that point we felt that the nearly 400 letters sent to council were sufficient in supporting our request for a tax exemption.

“Our board and staff are ready, eager, and willing to address and fix our relationship with the city. We are grateful for council’s reconsideration of our situation yesterday evening.

“We look forward to forging a more positive relationship in the future, and finding good solutions that benefit us all.”

The city statement also says, “council acknowledged the residents and community groups in attendance and those that reached out, and thanked them for sharing their feedback and for allowing council to listen and determine a productive solution.”

At its Sept. 28 regular council meeting, Campbell River city council removed the PTE when it passed a number of amendments to the Permissive Exemption From Taxation Bylaw. The PTE bylaw supports local community organizations that enhance the quality of life in Campbell River. The bylaw was amended to remove the exemptions to the CRAG and the Vancouver Island Mental Health Society (VIMHS), which operates the overdose prevention site.

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