By ROY WOOD
The free local tax ride enjoyed by churches in Osoyoos could hit a snag next year after a council member suggested the tax exemptions be reviewed individually.
Under the Permissive Tax Exemption Bylaw, non-profit organizations and places of worship are exempt from paying local property taxes. What routinely happens is the bylaw comes before council and is approved with little or no discussion.
As this year’s bylaw was about to be adopted this afternoon, Councillor CJ Rhodes interrupted proceedings to ask whether the town has any control over the criteria for gaining tax exemptions.
He was assured by financial services director Jim Zakall that the town does have such authority. However, Zakall pointed out, it’s too late for this year because the Community Charter — the provincial legislation governing local government — stipulates the bylaw be adopted by October 31.
Rhodes said that some of the tax exemptions are worth several thousands of dollars and that “some of the religious organizations are highly profitable.”
The councillor said he discussed the issue with other councillors at the recent Union of BC Municipalities convention in Vancouver, but that it is seen as too controversial and “no one wants to breach it.”
After some discussion among councillors, Zakall agreed that he will bring his report forward earlier next year so council will have a chance to review the exemptions before approving them. He will include an in investigation into what other municipalities are doing on the issue.
In a post-meeting interview with ODN, Rhodes said he would like to “have a discussion on each of (the churches) individually.”
He said his suggestion that some churches are “highly profitable” was a poor choice of words and he meant to say, “Many of them could afford to pay taxes.”
Among the churches listed as qualifying for full tax exemptions are: the Anglican Church; Grace Lutheran; Osoyoos United Church; Osoyoos Congregation of Jehovah Witness; the Osoyoos Christian Centre; and the Osoyoos Congregational Baptist Church. The Catholic Church receives a partial exemption.
Non-profits approved for exemption are: the Osoyoos Curling Club; the Sailing Club; Osoyoos Golf Club; the Senior Centre Association; Osoyoos Museum Society; Osoyoos Nursery School; Osoyoos Arts Council; the Portuguese Canadian Cultural Society; Desert Park; Destination Osoyoos; the boat trailer parking lot; the Grant family for providing a secondary fire hall; Desert Sun Counselling; the Elks Lodge; and the Legion.