A local community leader applauds Saanich’s decision to assess its permissive tax exemption policy for non-profit organizations, but also calls for additional improvements.
Teale Phelps Bondaroff, a former councillor candidate involved in a number of local initiatives and organizations, said it pleases him that council wants to consider permissive tax exemptions for non-profits including religious institutions “on their merits” within the context of Saanich’s strategic plan.
“In the past, Saanich has approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in permissive tax exemptions to numerous entities combined into a single motion,” said Bondaroff. “As such, it has not been able to evaluate each of these applications on their individual merits.”
Bondaroff said he now hopes Saanich will adopt policies that ask whether non-profits provide services and benefits available to all members of the community, not just their members. “Private clubs should not be benefiting from permissive tax exemptions,” he said.
The question of Saanich’s permissive exemptions has entered the 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.
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.
Bondaroff said non-profits in Saanich should be required to apply for an exemption every year, just as non-profits in Victoria. As part of this annual application, organizations would have to a community benefit test, he said.
Bondaroff, for his part, said he thinks such a test would leave some current recipients out in the cold.