Council Monday unanimously asked staff to prepare a report on the “implications” of introducing a public benefits test for organizations that currently receive permissive tax exemptions including places of public worship. (Black Press File).

Public benefits test for churches could be coming to Saanich after all

Council Monday asked staff to prepare report into ‘implications’ of such a test

Saanich religious institutions receiving tax breaks could face a public benefits test in the future.

Council Monday unanimously asked staff to prepare a report on the “implications” of introducing a public benefits test for organizations that currently receive permissive tax exemptions including places of public worship.

Coun. Rebecca Mersereau said she favoured a “longer look” into Saanich’s practice of granting permissive tax exemptions. “It has significant implications for the District,” she said, adding that it these exemptions could help Saanich achieve some of its larger strategic goals.

RELATED: Saanich might find it ‘challenging’ to introduce test for religious tax exemptions

Staff, she said, should consider a number of ideas in their review of practices in Saanich, as well as elsewhere. They include financial sustainability, transparency, fairness in application, and perhaps above all, inclusivity, a point echoed by other speakers.

“For me, that [inclusivity] is the big one,” said Coun. Colin Plant. “It is not meant to attack any denomination or any organization that has certain cultural goals. But if your organization is not inclusive, I am going to have a tough time supporting you.”

To underscore this point, council directed staff to review current practices against conditions that could appear in an eventual public benefits test.

They include among others the requirement “that services and activities be equally available to all residents” of the municipality. Plant said that language fits his definition of inclusivity.

With this decision, council went further than staff, which had recommended that council simply receive a report into the issue of permissive tax exemptions.

The public heard earlier that Saanich would have to develop a new policy for permissive tax exemptions if it wanted to introduce a public benefits test for non-profits including religious institutions.

“A public benefits test for places of worship would be more challenging to implement as all such exemptions are currently established on a perpetual basis,” said Valla Tinney, Saanich’s director of finance, in the report. “Any implementation would be on a go forward basis or [council] would need to consider rescinding previously approved exemptions.”

RELATED: Humanist group says Saanich taxes public purse with church exemptions

The question of Saanich’s permissive exemptions entered public discourse last year 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.

Under existing legislation, Saanich may exempt from taxation any area of land surrounding buildings set apart for public worship. Once granted, the exemption is perpetual until properties changes ownership or are no longer used for their original purpose, the report notes. (Buildings used for public worship including improvements and the land underneath them are exempt from taxation under existing legislation).

According to the report, 46 Saanich churches have previously received permissive tax exemptions for the land surrounding their buildings. These permissive tax exemptions totaled $561,186 in 2018. By way of background, this figure represents about a third of the total value of tax exemptions granted in 2018, as Saanich granted non-religious institutions about $1.06 million in tax exemptions.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich police issued a 90-day driving ban and a 30-day vehicle impound after an impaired driver was caught at the scene of a collision involving a parked car early on Oct. 27. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Driver fails roadside screening after early morning crash in Saanich

Both cars significantly damaged after driver hits parked car around 5 a.m.

Struggling to afford rent, Sylvia Bailey is hoping to trade her love of cooking for some more affordable accommodation. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Bailey)
Retired Victoria woman looking to cook, clean or garden in exchange for rent

Sylvia Bailey is hoping to use her love for cooking to help afford rent

Victoria police are searching for a suspect after a stabbing Monday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police searching for suspect in late-night stabbing

Victim taken to hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan Bui (left) and Kairry Nguyen at the end of the trial that found Tanessa Nikirk guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Nikirk is back in court for her sentencing hearing. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATED: Court hears letter from driver convicted of hitting Saanich girl

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit in 2017

The drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
Island Health opens COVID-19 testing site at UVic

As with all other sites, an appointment is needed to receive a test

Carolyn and Steve Touhey came across a pod of humpback whales while on their boat Sunday, Oct. 25. Photo supplied
VIDEO: Boaters encounter pod of humpbacks in Georgia Strait

Pod spotted between Comox and Texada Island

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

The voting station mimicked a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students had to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. students choose NDP majority in mock election

More than 90,000 youth took part in school-based election process

Crew transport bus at the Trans Mountain pipeline project work site in Burnaby, March 2020. (Trans Mountain)
Check your workplace COVID-19 safety plans, Dr. Henry urges

Masks in public spaces, distance in lunchrooms for winter

B.C.’s Court of Appeal is in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judgment reserved in Surrey Six slayings appeals

Six men were killed in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

Candice Woloshyn prepares her flower beds for the next season at her ‘Dirty Girl Flowers’ farm in Merville. Despite the pandemic, Woloshyn was able to sustain her homegrown business as community members opted for regular deliveries of fresh cut flowers. Photo by Binny Paul/ Campbell River Mirror.
Vancouver Island flower farmers were blooming as the pandemic wilted everything else

Floriculturists saw increased subscriptions as fresh flowers became a ‘sight for sore eyes’ during isolation

Most Read