City of Campbell River to give ‘exceptional’ amount of tax breaks in 2017

Rate of municipal property tax rates increases by nearly 15 per cent over last year

1 community organizations a Permissive Tax Exemption in 2017 – a move that had at least one group feeling left out.

Council, at its Monday meeting, approved $788,048 worth of property tax breaks, of which $425,568 is made up by the city and $362,480 is provided by other taxing authorities such as the school district, hospital district and Strathcona Regional District. The exemptions are a way for council to support community organizations by exempting land and/or improvements from municipal property taxation.

While the majority of community groups got what they were asking for, some had only a portion, or in one case zero per cent, of what they applied for approved.

Lesia Davis, chair of the Community Partnership Committee, which evaluates applications based on guidelines established by city council, said the committee recommended that Total Change Ministries, which operates Spirit 88.7 FM, a Christian radio station, and leases space at the Campbell River Common Mall, be denied a tax break.

Though the non-profit has received a 100 per cent Permissive Tax Exemption since 2012, Davis said that in reviewing applications, “it was noted that while Total Change Ministries does significant work to relieve poverty and improve the lives (of) those in need across the globe, there was no evidence of benefit to the local community in their application.”

Council’s Permissive Tax Exemption policy states that applicants must provide evidence of a strong and clear mandate to provide services for the benefit of the community.

Terry Somerville, president of Total Change Ministries, said the radio station meets that criteria but he missed outlining that work in his application. Somerville detailed how the radio station benefits the community in a letter that was presented to city council just prior to Monday’s meeting.

“Every hour of the day we promote other local community organizations and their events,” Somerville wrote in a letter to council. “We offer advertising free of charge to all non-profit organizations in the city.”

Somerville said Spirit FM promotes events like the Shoreline Arts Carving Contest, Logger Sports, Dragon Boat regatta, and most recently the city’s year-end events at Centennial Pool and the Willow Point splash park, as well as the Museum’s steam donkey celebration on Labour Day, and the North Island Cruiser’s Show ’n Shine.

Council, not wanting to thwart the Community Partnership Committee’s process, left the tax exemption list as is but only gave it first and second reading on Monday. Council could still add the radio station at an upcoming council meeting.

Other groups that did not receive full Permissive Tax Exemptions included the Campbell River Centre for Spiritual Living, which was granted a 75 per cent exemption, and the Discovery Masonic Temple, which was awarded a tax break on 25 per cent of its property tax fees.

Davis said that in the case of the Centre for Spiritual Living that the Centre leases space to private businesses and the Community Partnership Committee felt that the permissive tax exemption should not benefit those tenants that are not charities or non-profit organizations. Davis said, however, the committee recognized that the non-leased space is used by the Centre for its activities to provide a valuable community service and therefore recommended the 75 per cent tax break.

With the Masonic Temple, the association in the past had been ineligible but under new rules approved by council Monday night, the committee thought it appropriate to give the association a small tax break.

“Prior to changes made to council’s policy…the Temple was considered ineligible because access to the building is not open or otherwise available to the general public,” Davis said. “Council’s policy now considers the benefit to the community, rather than access to the property. As the Masons allow community groups access to their facilities for a nominal fee, and also run their Cancer Car service out of the building, the committee recommends a partial tax exemption.”

Three new applicants, however – the Campbellton Neighbourhood Association for property leased on 15th Avenue for a community garden, the Campbell River Hospice Society’s property on Evergreen Road for its Hospice House and the Communitas Supportive Care Society – received 100 per cent Permissive Tax Exemptions for 2017.

All of the new additions for next year add an extra $34,300 in exempted taxes.

Mayor Andy Adams said the addition of nine new properties for 2017, such as the Head Injury Support Apartments in Campbellton and the Hospice House, should be acknowledged and that while it “has resulted in a significant cost to the city, I think it is providing an excellent service.”

All combined, the tax exemptions in 2017 represent a 14.80 per cent annual increase over what was awarded in 2016.

Coun. Larry Samson said he couldn’t support those figures.

“I have a couple of problems – one is I see a couple of organizations holding raw land and there’s nothing stopping these organizations from flipping these properties sometime in the future,” Samson said. “The other thing is…some of these organizations are self-sufficient and don’t need the hand up. I think we’re giving the 100 per cent too freely.”

Dennis Brodie, the city’s finance operations supervisor, said the increase can be largely attributed to skyrocketing tax assessments.

“This year was exceptional,” Brodie said. “We’re seeing a large increase in assessed values which is driving this increase.”

Brodie stressed to council, however, that the figures are all estimates as property assessments for 2017 have not been done yet, nor has council set the property tax rate for next year.

“The reality is…that number could be bigger or smaller,” Brodie said.

As per a change in policy, the Permissive Tax Exemptions represent 1.7 per cent of general tax revenues, though what was approved for 2017 comes under the cap by roughly $46,000. The cap was previously 1.4 per cent but Davis said that number was “insufficient to meet the increased assessed values of the existing properties.”

Davis said under the original cap there would have been a shortfall of $2,700 before even adding in the new community groups.