There always seems to be a hot topic at city hall these days, whether council is sitting or not. Simmering in the background is a feud about the city finding $20,000 to help St. Paul's Lutheran church with its heritage facade.
Coun. Bill McKay took great exception to finding out, after the fact, that St. Paul's already had $1 million in the bank towards their $2.3 million project, and spoke up about it.
Coun. Diane Brennan has taken offence at McKay's objections, and won't say whether she has taken the extraordinary measure of sending emails between herself and McKay via BCC'd copies to a member of the press.
Storage Wars? Shipping Wars? With the way our civic leaders get along, Nanaimo could be ready for its own reality program, Council Wars. The ratings could be out of this world, since it has reached cyber space.
McKay has every right to question putting $20,000 of taxpayer dollars into St. Paul's pockets. Especially in this case.
As the Daily News reported, "In an email to colleagues, Coun. Bill McKay said he felt 'duped' and 'a sucker' in light of the news.
"When asked to speak about the roof, councillor (Diane) Brennan pointed out that the roof was 84 years old and was in a very sad state of repair," McKay wrote in an email.
"In other words, while the church pays no property tax on the building and had 84 years to save up for a new roof, they couldn't have possibly done it without our $20K contribution."
There is no question that churches and other organizations make valuable contributions to Nanaimo. In recognition of that, it has been a long-standing tradition to grant tax exemptions to these groups, a generous move that honours their commitment to making our community better.
Every once in awhile, the city tosses out the notion of eliminating property tax exemptions to churches. We haven't heard one for awhile, but with instances like this and the fact that there are many who believe that churches and other religious groups should be taxed on their real estate, it wouldn't be surprising if the idea gets tossed around again.
It would be interesting to have the city release calculations that show exactly how much tax revenue they forego because of these exemptions, and what reductions that could possibly result for the home and commercial/industrial building owners if these organizations were to start paying property tax.
Situations like this cause more than the odd eyebrow to raise, particularly those who aren't inclined to frequent houses of worship.
To be certain, this $20,000 wasn't going to feed the hungry and the homeless. It was for bricks and mortar, to top up a fund that already includes $1 million.
It goes along the lines of what has become a systemic problem: We need to get people to stand up on their own two feet and look for answers - and finances when necessary - through their own efforts and ingenuity. The city has catered to, and perhaps even helped create, a culture where the moment there is a financial need, citizens from all corners go cap in hand to the city to see how many tax dollars they can get for their particular cause. That's not good or healthy.
With all the controversy surrounding this gift, putting the church in a negative light, we encourage St. Paul's to do the right thing and give the money back to the city. By doing so, they'll demonstrate that charity does begin at home. In this case, it really would be better to give, than receive.
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