Nelson council debates tax exemptions

Non-profit groups that own property are eligible for tax exemptions if council is convinced they do good work for the community as a whole.

Non-profit groups and churches that own property are eligible for tax exemptions if council is convinced they do good work for the community as a whole.

At its September 18 meeting, Nelson city council considered a list of non-profit organizations in Nelson that may be exempted from property taxes for the next three years.

Almost half of those organizations are churches, but church exemptions amount to less than 10 per cent of the total of $42,476.

That total is slightly more ($1,709 more) than .5 per cent of the city’s total property tax levy, which is the upper limit that a previous council imposed on total allowable permissive tax exemptions for each year.

Municipalities are not required to give organizations tax exemptions. But every three years Nelson council considers applications from various community groups for exemptions, and adjudicates the requests so that their total fits within the .5 per cent cap.

This year’s adjudication was done at a closed meeting, and the results were discussed at the public council meeting.

There was considerable discussion about whether to exceed the .5 per cent, with Councillors Bob Adams and Robin Cherbo saying it was only a small amount over, and others, including Councillor Janice Morrison, saying it should be brought in line because exceeding a limit is a slippery slope.

Ultimately the decision was to allow the extra expense.

The city’s policy is that non-profit organizations, including churches, are eligible for a permissive tax exemption if the organization:

  • Provides needed social and community services to city residents.
  • Provides arts, cultural or recreational activities of demonstrable benefit to city residents.
  • Has the ability to raise its own revenues.
  • Offers its services primarily to the broader community of citizens.

The policy also states that an exemption will not be granted if it would result in an inappropriate shifting of costs from other levels of government to local taxpayers.

While a federal government exemption means a municipality cannot tax the property churches sit on, it can tax the property around the church, such as the yard and parking lot.

Should churches be given tax exemptions by municipalities, and how should the amount of their exemption be decided? For example, how should council judge the amount of social services a church offers?

Cherbo and Adams said to make this determination, council would have to ask every church to come in and explain what social services they offer. Other councillors pointed out that this had already been done: that all organizations asking for exemptions were asked, on the application form and in their presentation to council, to give details of this.

Cherbo was adamant that all churches should be given full exemptions because they all provide a service to the community that cannot be measured and cannot be properly compared with other churches.

Some councillors said some churches only serve their own congregations and others are obviously involved with the larger community. The tricky question is how to to accurately gauge this.

Councillor Anna Purcell summed up the quandary by saying, “I don’t love that churches get the exemption they already get, but I feel uncomfortable getting rid of it.”

The proposal that will go to first reading at the next city council meeting has the organizations receiving full exemptions except where indicated .

Ascension Lutheran Church $445

Bethel Christian Centre $739

Cathedral of Mary Immaculate— $211

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints $251 (partial)

First Baptist Church $258

Kootenay Christian Fellowship $1153 (partial)

Nelson Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses $426

Nelson Evangelical Covenant Church $102

Nelson United Church $126

Salvation Army $3272 (partial)

St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church $404

St. Saviors Anglican Pro-Cathedral— $180

Granite Pointe Golf Club $6,922

Nelson Red Cross $889 (partial)

Kootenay Co-op Radio $962 (partial)

Kootenay Kids Society, Silica St. $3,536 (partial)

Kootenay Kids Society, Stanley St. $640

West Kootenay Women’s Association $1,258

Kalein Hospice Centre Society $1,393 (partial)

Nelson Kiwanis Projects Society Gordon Road $3,339

Nelson Kiwanis Projects Society Sixth St. $5,249

Nelson CARES Society Vernon St. $2,647

Nelson CARES Society Nelson Ave. $3734 (partial)

Nelson CARES Society Ward St. $3,109 (partial)

Total: $42,476

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