Courtenay wrestles with property tax exemptions

Courtenay council is keeping its same property tax exemption policy, with a few minor tweaks here and there.

Councillors spent an hour at their committee of the whole meeting June 26 reviewing a report from staff that had been requested Dec. 5 by council.

One item they decided to change and include in the policy is an ongoing property tax exemption for Amethyst House, a women’s recovery centre operated by the Comox Valley Women’s Transition Society.

Last year, council approved spending gaming funds to provide property tax relief for the centre in order to provide equity with the Comox Valley Recovery Centre, which is for men only.

The city’s property tax exemption policy was last revised in 2013 and limits 100 per cent tax exemptions to those organizations that provide services to Courtenay residents only.

The Recovery Centre had been “grandfathered” in to the new policy, because its clients come from throughout the Valley.

The city’s policy stipulates that ‘regional organizations’ only be eligible for a 40 per cent exemption. Some, though, receive a 75 per cent exemption such as the Comox Valley Kiwanis Village Society. Others, including churches, get the full 100 per cent deal. (Provincial regulations require that churches be exempt from municipal property taxes).

Another change that was made is that if an organization moves, they do not have to reapply for a property tax exemption and be reassessed.

This arose after the Comox Valley Pregnancy Care Centre moved to another location last year, and lost its tax exemption. Council used gaming funds to cover the loss.

And that prompted council at the time to ask for a review to clarify the property tax exemption policy prior to the next round of exemptions for 2018.

A motion to lower the ceiling for tax exemptions from 2 per cent to 1.7 per cent failed, with only Conc. David Frisch and acting mayor Manno Theos in favour.

Another option, to re-evaluate Child Daycare Society applications for property tax exemptions, passed.

This is a difficult issue because the exemption policy stipulates that those receiving exemptions can’t be competing with private businesses.

Brian Parschauer, director of finance, told council that “any changes we make today will affect tax revenues coming in.”

Counc. Doug Hillian said the review is an effort “to avoid an annual haggle session.”

“We may have new organizations applying. We also seem to have exceptions … part of the reason is we have some historical anomalies.

“Even with the Transition Society’s Amethyst lodge program, it’s not actually eligible for the 100 per cent discount. We felt obliged to give that because the male recovery centre gets 100 per cent,” he said.

The city can only exempt buildings from property taxes for the municipal portion of the bill only. Other entities that levy taxes such as the school district and the regional district aren’t included.

“We only have authority over our own taxing,” Parschauer said.