Fiesty debate on tax-free status in Qualicum Beach

Many Canadian municipalities having a second look at this issue

A debate surrounding the future of property tax exemptions for community groups and churches turned boisterous Monday night in the chambers of Qualicum Beach town council.

While there was no specific motion in front of council regarding the tax-free status afforded groups and organizations that could represent as much as $300,000 in yearly revenue to the town, Mayor Teunis Westbroek made it clear he would not vote in favour of making any changes to the staus quo.

“We have to be really careful what we are asking for,” said Westbroek. “(Tax forgiveness) is a good approach to support so many organizations that provide good service to the town.”

Coun. Mary Brouilette asked staff to come back with some information for a future council meeting, suggesting a look at what Parksville is currently doing with caps on exemptions and a formula for which groups would be eligible and at what level.

“When exemptions were (originally) given, probably 100 years ago, services didn’t cost as much as they do now,” said Brouilette.

Coun. Dave Willie also suggested staff report back on what Parksville is doing.

“I think it’s time Qualicum Beach took the same look,” said Willie. “If you look at that exemption list now, it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Westbroek’s comments indicated he wasn’t comfortable with where the discussion was going.

“I think this is the wrong approach,” he said. “I think this is the wrong message. It has come up before and I have fought it.”

Willie was quite demonstrative and louder than usual with his response to Westbroek’s comments.

“For you to imply that I would like to tax churches is wrong and I take offence to that,” Willie said to the mayor. “The public deserves the right to have the discussion.”

Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer said many Canadian municipalities looking to find ways to cover increased infrastructure costs are having the discussion about tax exemptions.

“I don’t think this will happen next year but we need to start the discussion,” said Luchtmeijer.

After the meeting, both Willie and Luchtmeijer agreed with the suggestion any changes to tax-exempt status for organizations would not likely occur before the 2014 municipal elections.