Fort St John overhauls permissive tax exemptions

In November, the northern British Columbia community of Fort St John approved a new Financial Policy Framework that will require organizations "provide broad community benefits" to be eligible for property tax exemptions.

Under the Community Charter, municipalities are required to exempt certain property like houses of worship from property taxes but can provide additional permissive exemptions to certain other properties. The City provides nearly $800,000 worth of exemptions to various organizations, with religious groups receiving over $255,000 of those exemptions.

Under the new framework, which will be phased in starting in 2021, groups must meet a number of criteria to receive a property tax exemption and exemptions will be capped at 75% of municipal taxes. Additionally, a new Community Foundation will be responsible for reviewing applications, rather than council as a whole.

The new policy states:

  1. Permissive tax exemptions may be considered for organizations that provide broad community benefits.
  2. Exemptions granted to eligible organizations are limited to the municipal portion of the property tax.
  3. Permissive tax exemptions will be limited to 75% of the municipal portion of the taxation to ensure that essential services are supported.
  4. To be eligible for a permissive tax exemption the organization must own the property and contribute to the common good and must benefit the City in one or more of the following ways for the property to be considered:
    • Provide programs or facilities used by youth, seniors or other special needs groups
    • Provide facilities for public use
    • Provide programs to the public
    • Provide supportive housing for people with special needs
    • Preserve heritage important to the community character
    • Preserve an environmentally and ecologically significant area of the City
    • Offer cultural or educational programs to the public which promote community spirit, cohesiveness or tolerance
    • Offer services to the public with a formal partnership with the City
  5. Vacant and underdeveloped parcels owned but not actively used by a non-profit organization will not be considered for a permissive tax exemption. Parcels that are being used as parking lots by non-profit organizations but not developed to City specifications will not be considered.
  6. The City will provide exemptions only on property owned by the not-for-profit organization.

The BC Humanist Association has featured a number of communities in its series on permissive tax exemptions. Several, including Saanich, Summerland and Victoria, have also made recent changes to their policies by either implementing public benefits tests or phasing out exemptions entirely.

Banner image taken from the cover of the Financial Policy Framework

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