Non-profit organizations including religious institutions in Saanich may have to justify their permissive tax exemptions in the future.
Council Tuesday tasked Saanich’s finance standing committee to review the issue of permissive tax exemptions, with an eye towards developing what Coun. Colin called a “stress test” for such exemptions.
Plant said it might be time to review Saanich’s policy in the face of questions from the public. He specifically referenced comments from Teale Phelps Bondaroff, a candidate for Saanich council, who raised the issue during the Sept. 17 public input session.
“It strikes me as … strange that we are granting tax exemptions to organizations without putting them through a benefits test,” he said, pointing to the benefits test that the City of Victoria is using.
“The question that I put to you, as you explore giving [a total of] $2.4 million dollar of Saanich’s tax dollars, is have you actually tested that all the people, who are receiving this generous contribution are using their lands for non-profit activities, that furthermore, that the services have a public benefit, and that the benefits are available to all people?”
(The figure quoted above comes from Saanich’s 2017 annual report. The figure for 2019 will be established in May 2019).
Council appeared for the most part supportive of the idea, but the public also heard voices of caution.
“We have had those discussions, but it never hurts to have these discussions again,” said Coun. Vicki Sanders.
Coun. Judy Brownoff agreed, but also warned of potential side-effects. “But I just remind [the public] that when Victoria did their extensive review, and they took away things, some of the non-profits really felt the hardship on them.”
Coun. Fred Haynes echoed this point.
“There is strain and stress on our volunteer community, and we need to bear that in mind,” he said. “Let’s take great care in how we look at this, and have a very careful approach, as we move that forward.”
Council did move forward by giving three readings to two bylaws that respectively exempted churches and a number of community organizations, some of which have religious affiliations.
The question of permissive exemptions has entered the public discourse in recent weeks after a provincial organization promoting secular humanism questioned why B.C. communities including Saanich continue to grant tax exemptions to properties that religious groups own.
Places of worship receive a statutory tax exemption under the Community Charter with councils having no say in the matter. (The statutory exemption applies to the assessed value of the building and the value of the land under the building).
Municipalities, however, may grant permissive exemptions, but only for land surrounding the building. Saanich granted 45 churches exemptions worth $773,898, according to the 2017 annual report. The largest exemption for a church went to the Salvation Army Victoria Citadel with $109,635.
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