A Nanaimo city councillor says city grants and tax exemptions to churches and other properties should be reviewed and means-tested.
Coun. Bill McKay says he will bring the issue forward at upcoming meetings on the municipal budget, the first of which is being held this Thursday.
McKay recently clashed with fellow councillor Diane Brennan over the issue of a $20,000 heritage facade grant for St. Paul's Anglican Church in downtown Nanaimo. McKay voted with the rest of council to fund the grant by dipping into the council contingency fund to make up for a $10,000 shortfall in available grant money. However, he later learned that the church had committed $1 million for a separate project, knowledge that he said would have impacted his decision to award the grant. He said the event has caused him to question how the city hands out money to groups in the forms of grants.
"Everybody that comes in front of us gets money," he said.
"Not only are we not doing any capping on it, when we don't have any money in the account, we go somewhere else for it," he added.
Another issue is permissive tax exemptions, which are at the discretion of council. Officials voted last October to award $1.4 million-worth of tax exemptions for churches, non-profits and municipal facilities, such as the Port Theatre. The total exemptions don't include statutory exemptions imposed by the province. McKay pointed to other municipalities as examples, including Victoria. That city recently approved a cap on permissive tax exemptions at 1.6 per cent of total tax revenue. Victoria also has a policy of phasing out grandfathered, 100 per cent tax exemptions for recreational and private school facilities over the next 10 years. However, the city also removed financial need as a condition for applying for tax exemptions.
Mayor John Ruttan said many Nanaimo groups have traditionally come to expect the exemptions. However, he added, "I do agree that (the topic) needs to be explored."
"I'll see how it's presented, and then I'll determine if it's something I can support, once the details are presented," Ruttan said.
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