Legion requests bigger tax exemption

Williams Lake’s Royal Canadian Legion branch 139 hopes the old proverb the squeaky wheel gets the grease — or in this case the greater property tax exemption — rings true.

Williams Lake’s Royal Canadian Legion branch 139 hopes the old proverb the squeaky wheel gets the grease — or in this case the greater property tax exemption — rings true.

In a letter to the City, the legion has asked for a “much larger tax break” than it is currently receiving when it comes to the City’s permissive tax exemption that has traditionally been decided in the fall of each year.

Legion treasurer Joyce Norberg said she was unaware that the City was instituting a new PTE policy, which will come into effect in Sept. 2012 when she wrote to council; she says the letter was an attempt to make the City aware of the challenges the legion faces.

Last year the legion received a $1,378 exemption and paid, according to Norberg, $7,874.62 in property taxes.

She says that’s a challenge.

“We pay heavy, heavy taxes here and we pay heavy, heavy insurance,” says the legion treasurer, adding local branches typically don’t get any financial assistance from head office.

“And we give all our money away so it’s very difficult for a branch to maintain itself.”

Norberg says the legion’s sources of revenue are what it generates from bar sales and commission earned from its gaming machines.

What increases the challenge is timing. Norberg says large bill payments correspond with the time when revenues at the legion are traditionally lowest — the summer.

“I live in dread of something big happening (to the building) because there’s no contingency. I have to put the contingency aside for the taxes and that’s about all I can squeeze out of a month — $600 for 10 months to pay the taxes so it’s tough for us to deal with payroll and everything we do,” she says.

What Norberg would like to understand is how council arrives at its decision on exemptions and the exemption amount.

For the last three years since Norberg has been treasurer the legion has received an approximate $1,200 exemption each year.

“If we don’t cry the blues they might think we’re doing just fine,” she said of the reason for the letter.

“I thought we’ve got nothing to lose and hopefully they think about us.”

Legislation under the Community Charter allows cities in B.C. to give permissive tax exemptions and outlines a broad criteria; however, Mayor Kerry Cook says the idea to change the PTE has evolved from council wanting to provide a stricter set of guidelines that are clearer to both the local government and organizations that apply for the exemption.

“What’s happened, because there hasn’t been a specific policy, is it’s becoming harder and harder to make decisions about who gets it and who doesn’t,” Cook said.

“From what we talked about at the beginning of our (council) term that certain groups were getting them all the time and so you’re just approving those and we started asking, ‘Why this group and why not this group?’”

Cook added the dollar amount given on permissive tax exemptions was also growing, which was a matter of concern.

In 2010, $156,903 was exempted from the municipal tax role.

In the future, council may consider a cap on exemptions during budget discussions each year.

Cook acknowledges that groups that have been receiving the exemption may be nervous about the changes but says that’s why council won’t bring new rules —  currently in draft form — in until the fall of 2012.

Council will further confer with exemption recipients in the coming months to gather feedback and input on the draft policy.

“We’re saying we want to have a clear criteria so it’s fair for everybody so people can plan accordingly and so there’s no fear and if there is gong to be change we are saying to people it wouldn’t be happening overnight,” Cook says.

Under the draft policy council will consider PTE applications for places of worship, private schools and hospitals for a period of up to five years. Other non-profit organizations will be considered annually.

To be eligible, applicants must quality under the exemption provisions in place under the Community Charter; be in compliance with municipal policies; be a non-profit organization; provide services or programs that are complelementary to those offered by the City; and principle use of property meet council’s objectives. Council may provide partial exemptions.