Smithers town council has granted 41 permissive property tax exemptions totalling approximately $317,000 annually for the next three years. All but two applications by not-for-profit organizations, recreation clubs, places of worship, private schools, the hospital and senior care facilities were approved.
“I think all the organizations that came forward with applications provide a benefit and that’s why, by and large, they receive a permissive tax exemption,” said Mayor Taylor Bachrach.
“The Town of Smithers recognizes the significant value of volunteers, volunteer groups and agencies to the spiritual, educational, social, cultural and physical well-being of the community,” states the Town’s Permissive Taxation Exemption Policy.
“A permissive tax exemption is a means for council to support organizations within the community that further council’s objective to enhance the quality of life while delivering services economically to the residents of Smithers.”
But Bachrach acknowledged the lost revenue has to come from somewhere.
“Every exemption we give has to be made up for by the rest of the taxpayers so the question is whether, as a community, we support that philosophy and we see enough value in those organizations to each chip in and pay their taxes, basically,” he said.
In her report to council, Leslie Ford, director of finance, reported the total taxation value for the not-for-profits and recreation clubs was approximately $130,000 annually.
The buildings and footprints of places of worship, private schools, the hospital and senior care facilities are statutorily exempt under B.C. law, but exempting any other lands and improvements is at the discretion of council. For the statutorily exempt organizations the total was $187,000.
Although much of that number is mandated as exempt by the Province, the discretionary part of it was up for debate at the special meeting of council Aug. 14.
“There’s always been some discussion on council whether that makes sense,” Bachrach said. “I think the desire from some councillors was to have a conversation as a community whether that is consistent with the community’s perspective.”
One of those councillors was Greg Brown.
“People really don’t take notice of this and I think we’d be wise to just start informing people about this process and the money involved and the decisions council makes and get people more engaged in it,” he said. “I think this is one of those important conversations because it’s a fiscal one and property owners pay tax bills, so everybody feels the impact.”
In addition to the 16 organizations that already had tax exemptions, seven new applicants came forward. Of these, two were turned down, Sparrows Christian Housing Society for their Third Avenue property, and Dik Ty Housing Society for their Main Street property (formerly the Hilltop Pub).
“For any registered assisted living facility we’re required to extend them a statutory exemption, but with housing projects, which are more on the affordable housing spectrum, our practice has been to charge the organizations property tax,” Bachrach said.
“There was some discussion around the idea that if we extended a tax exemption to one housing project then we would be in a position that we had to look at all the others on the basis of fairness.”
The mayor noted as an example the recently opened Goodacre Place on Railway Avenue on which the Smithers Community Services Association is paying taxes.
“If we open up that discussion, then it could open up a larger subsidy than we anticipated.”
Both Bachrach and Brown said although council stayed the course this year, the group is particularly concerned because of the infrastructure crunch the municipality is facing.
“One thing we did discuss was trying to reduce the permissive exemptions over time, to phase in a reduction, because for not-for-profits, their budgets anticipate these exemptions and so, if you’re a not-for-profit and all of a sudden you get hit with a tax bill, that’s difficult to fundraise for and build into your budgeting process,” Bachrach said.
“At this point we’re not moving in that direction, but there was some discussion at council whether that kind of thing might be required in the future, given the challenges we’re having with infrastructure.”
Bachrach also noted there are some perennial controversial issues.
“The golf course is one that always generates some discussion because their property is so valuable that if we were to tax them that represents a huge bill for them and we recognize the value of the golf course to the community as a recreation amenity but any discussion about reducing the exemption would have to hold in mind the value of some of these organizations to our larger community,” he said.
Another sticky one is the churches.
“It’s a legitimate discussion to have about whether extending the permissive part of their exemption reflects the community’s perspective and we just haven’t had a chance as a community to really unpack that issue,” Bachrach said.
“I imagine there will be pretty diverse views in Smithers when it comes to that topic. My perspective is it is a discussion we should be having. I haven’t really decided where I fall on the topic, but I do know there are councillors that support having that discussion sooner than later, so that’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if we see it come forward in the next little bit.”
Although council approved the applications at its special meeting Aug. 14, it does not go into effect until a new bylaw is adopted and submitted to BC Assessment, but first, it has to be advertised before being brought forward to a regular meeting of council for reading and adoption, probably Sept. 10.
Entities approved for 2020-2022 permissive taxation exemptions
Smithers and Area Recycling Society (Fulton Ave.)
The Grendel Group
Royal Canadian Legion
BV Museum Society
Northern Society for Domestic Peace
BVD Hospital Auxiliary
Wet’suwet’en Treaty Office Society
Governing Council of the Salvation Army
BV Gymnastic Society
Smithers Central Park Building Society
Smithers Community Services Association (Railway Ave.)
Smithers and Area Recycling Society (Bottle Depot)
BV Search and Rescue (Ranger Park)
BV Search and Rescue (Airport)
Smithers Community Services Association (The Meadows)
Navy League of Canada
BV Child Development Centre Society
BV Collaborative Learning
BV Christian Housing Society
Smithers Curling Club
Smithers Golf and Country Club
Anglican Synod Diocess of Caledonia
BC Corporation of the Seventh Day Adventists
Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp of Prince Rupert
Smithers Fellowship Baptist Church
Trustees of the Smithers United Church
Evangelical Free Church of Smithers
Christian Reformed Church of Smithers
Trustees of Smithers Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Bethel Reformed Church of Smithers
Roman Catholic Episcopal Corp of Prince Rupert
BV Christian School Society
Northern Health (BV District Hospital)
Northern Health Authority (Bulkley Lodge)
Bulkley Senior Citizens Housing Society (Pioneer Place)
BV Christian Seniors’ Care Society