Council turned down a request from the The Land Conservancy BC for a permissible tax exemption for an outstanding balance of about $55,000 at the regular council meeting on Oct. 9.
It was a split decision between council, with Mayor Wendal Milne, Coun. Maja Tait and Coun. Kerrie Reay in favour, and Coun. Rick Kasper, Coun. Herb Haldane and Coun. Kevin Pearson opposed.
Due to a tie, the decision to amend the tax exemption bylaw to include properties within the Sooke Potholes was defeated.
Kasper expressed concerns on how the exemption would effect the budget, which council documents show would have an estimated financial impact of about $24,000 for 2013.
“I just have a concern granting an exemption when we’re owed roughly $54,000… People have to be reminded because we are out there borrowing money in order to pay for everybody else’s bills and that costs all the taxpayers to some degree additional funds,” Kasper said.
“I could support the exception providing that all outstanding taxes are paid, so perhaps if these matters could be dealt with this year and then the organization can come back to us next year,” he added.
Haldane expressed concern over the lack of a business plan, and lack of access of trails and parking for Sooke residents.
“There’s monies outstanding and I can’t support this at this time because of no possibility of a plan to pay back the money that’s owed,” he said.
“I don’t support it because I don’t want the rest of Sooke to subsidize the whole taxation of this property… they’re charging for you to park there, they’re a private organization, they’re a private enterprise.”
Tait supported the exemption, stating the Sooke Potholes is a place where tourists and locals visit alike.
“I view the Potholes as a park, as an amenity that draws visitors into our community — tourist dollars that is. As well, it’s a place for people to recreate for those that live here,” she said.
To which Coun. Reay agreed.
“I think the TLC provides an exceptional service to the province of British Columbia, ensuring… parks are protected,” she said. “They’re allowed to apply for this tax exemption and even though they’re a society, I support it.”
Wendal expressed concern over the potential loss of the Sooke Potholes as an accessible park.
“If the TLC is forced to sell it then it could end up in private hands and we may not have access to it. Although I’m troubled with the exemption, and the whole sort of issue, I want to try and protect that as it stands for the users and the people around Sooke.”
TLC applied to include three properties within the Sooke Potholes for the Permissive Tax Exemption for Public Parks, and Recreation Grounds, Not for Profit Corporations and Public Authorites Bylaw, 2007.
The not-for-profit purchased the properties in 2005, which measure 55 hectares along the Sooke River.
The organization has been met with financial difficulty over unpaid taxes, even having bank accounts temporarily frozen in August by the Canada Revenue Agency.
TLC is a not-for-profit society that protects important habitat for plants, animals and natural communities as well as properties with historical, cultural, scientific, scenic or compatible recreational value. It owns and manages 300 protected properties across the province, worth $32 million.