City of Powell River Council has approved $43,020 in grants-in-aid to be applied to 2020 property taxes for all eligible places of worship in the city.
At the June 11 council meeting, chief administrative officer Adam Langenmaier said he was reporting to council because of a misinterpretation of the Community Charter. He said a statute of the Community Charter allows for places of worship to be exempt from property taxes, and that is something council does not have the authority to approve or deny. This applies to the worship buildings and land directly under the footprint of the buildings.
Langenmaier said council does have the authority to exempt the remainder of the property and improvements from property taxation.
Council adopted a five-year permissive tax exemption bylaw in 2014 for places of worship that expired in 2019. Langenmaier said through a misinterpretation of the Community Charter the permissive tax exemption bylaw that applies to ancillary lands to places of worship was not renewed.
“This year, churches got a big tax bill because they were taxed on the entire piece of land,” said Langenmaier.
The CFO said council could provide grants-in-aid that would be equivalent to the amount of the permissive tax exemption that council would have approved if the bylaw was put before council.
He said he had reached out to every single church group. He added that they were all surprised when their tax bills came in and were very thankful for the telephone call indicating it could be remedied.
“It’s in council’s policy and past practice that we provide an exemption to churches and this would be continuing on in that same spirit,” said Langenmaier.
Councillor Maggie Hathaway said if she remembers correctly, that council had some leeway and could do a permissive tax exemption for all of the property or a portion of the property.
“I’m wondering why we wouldn’t do a permissive tax exemption on the entire area rather than do the second step of a grant-in-aid,” said Hathaway.
Langenmaier said a permissive tax exemption needed to be done by October 31 of last year, so grants-in-aid were the mechanism council had at its disposal.
Councillor George Doubt said usually, council would have voted on the permissive tax exemptions on October 31 of the previous year. He said the exemptions will be one of the matters discussed under the terms of reference by the new citizens’ finance advisory committee.
“When we next approve a permissive tax exemption bylaw it might have a different policy than the last one did but it’s reasonable to continue on doing things the way we have in granting grants-in-aid to people who would have got permissive tax exemptions.”
Council carried a motion for the grants-in-aid for the places of worship.