City councillors apologize to community groups

Six charitable groups had property tax breaks stripped from them two weeks ago

One by one council took turns apologizing Tuesday night to several community groups that had their tax exemptions revoked then reinstated, while placing blame on the province’s shoulders.

“I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the groups who were left in a very difficult situation over the last two weeks or so,” Coun. Claire Moglove said at Tuesday’s council meeting with members of Family Services in attendance. “I want to make it clear to these groups that if there’s anyone at fault it was the provincial ministry staff that were giving mixed messages.”

Six charitable groups had property tax breaks stripped from them two weeks ago following a new interpretation of the provincial Community Charter by the Ministry of Community, Sport and Culture. The city’s Community Partnership Committee was advised by the ministry that groups that did not own or have a capital lease on their property were no longer eligible for tax exemptions they had been enjoying for several years.

The new interpretation affected the Campbell River Family Services Society, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, Total Change Ministries’ 88.7 Spirit FM Christian Music radio, Canadian Red Cross, Campbell River Seniors Society, and River City Players.

One week after the tax breaks were revoked, however, the city sought legal advice and spoke again to the province which said it had broadened its interpretation of the charter following several complaints.

The city announced last Friday morning that it would be reinstating the tax exemptions.

“It is the opinion of the city’s legal counsel that we were given incorrect advice by the ministry,” said Barry Watchorn, chair of the Community Partnership Committee. “There is no basis in the legislation for the ministry’s advice that the lease must be a capital lease. It’s with pleasure that we have reached the point with the ministry changing its mind on capital leases and operating leases.”

Mayor Walter Jakeway said the incident was a learning experience and that a mistake was made during the Sept. 18 council meeting when the tax breaks were revoked.

“This council certainly learned from what went on in the last two weeks and I too apologize to the groups,” Jakeway said. “We all knew that night that something was wrong, it didn’t feel  quite right but at that stage we didn’t know what to do about it. We were struggling to find a way to fix the problem. Hopefully this will never happen again. Certainly not in the term of this council.”

Coun. Ron Kerr agreed he felt uncomfortable turning down charities.

“I’d personally like to apologize for the confusion and anxiety that was caused for the groups that were affected,” he said. “I personally learned something during this process and I won’t be so fast to change policy in the future when it doesn’t feel right.”

Council will consider reviewing its Permissive Property Tax Exemption Policy upon adoption of the tax exemption bylaw, which is expected to happen within the next few weeks.