Community groups relieved by province’s backtrack

Now the ministry says it has broadened its interpretation of the Community Charter

A backlash from local non-profits over having their tax exemptions revoked has the provincial government backpedaling.

Six charitable groups received a letter from the city Sept. 21 informing them that their property tax exemption was being revoked because of a new interpretation of the provincial Community Charter. The city’s translation was that non-profit groups could no longer receive a permissive tax exemption unless they own or have a capital lease on their property.

That did not sit well with Campbell River and Family Services Society executive director Camille Lagueux, who was preparing to celebrate the society’s Family Services Day today.

She described the move as a “devastating blow” to an organization that struggles to maintain the same level of service for more than 2,500 people each year.

“The city needs to become a full partner in providing these essential services to its citizens and we are asking that they honour their agreement with the society,” Lagueux said last week.

It seems that message was heard.

“Based on new information from the province, the city’s Community Partnership Committee will recommend that the bylaw on permissive tax exemption be amended to re-instate previously revoked properties leased by charitable/non-profit groups,” said a news release issued by the city last Friday morning. “Following (the Sept. 18) council meeting, the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development received calls questioning their interpretation of permissive tax exemption eligibility.”

Barry Watchorn, the chair of the city’s Community Partnership Committee, which recommended council revoke tax breaks to the local charities, apologized for the mix up.

“The committee’s previous recommendation was based on our best understanding of the provincial legislation at the time, and we are very sorry for the difficulty community groups experienced as a result of that recommendation.”

Now the ministry says it has broadened its interpretation of the Community Charter. After receiving legal advice, the city confirmed there is no basis in the legislation that the lease must be a capital lease, therefore operating leases held by non-profits qualify for the tax break. Natalie Aalderink, the city’s finance manager, said the city’s legal counsel believes the city was given “incorrect advice by the ministry” which it is now trying to correct.

“In light of this new information the committee met Sept. 28 to consider the ministry’s most recent response and the opinion from our legal counsel, and they recommend that we amend the bylaw to reinstate previously revoked properties and to add (three) new ones,” said Barry Watchorn, chair of the Community Partnership Committee.

The groups that will have their tax exemption reinstated are: Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, Total Change Ministries’ 88.7 Spirit FM Christian Music radio, Campbell River Family Services, Canadian Red Cross, Campbell River Seniors Society, and River City Players. The three new tax breaks will be given to the Willow Point Supportive Living Society, Campbell River Dragon Boat Society, and the Strathcona Regional District.

That was welcome news for Lagueux, who was informed of the change by the city last Friday morning.

“Very relieved to hear that,” she said. “This past week has been a rollercoaster ride for us. Now we can move ahead with Family Services Day on October 3 and focus on providing needed services to the community.”

The city’s Community Partnership Committee was expected to have a report before council at its meeting Oct. 2, after the Mirror went to press, recommending council rescind third reading of the bylaw that revoked the tax exemptions. Based on 2012 tax rates, the city will provide 70 organizations tax breaks worth $637,737 in 2013. The permissive tax exemption bylaw must be adopted by Oct. 31.