When a journalist from Saanich News reached out for a story on permissive tax exemptions in the District of Saanich, I decided to go through and look up the detailed policies for most of the municipalities around Victoria. Even within a very small region, we're able to see a wide variety of approaches taken by different councils.
Every municipality below grants at least some permissive exemptions for religious properties but how they decide which to provide, and how they report them, varies greatly.
City of Victoria
Victoria specifically asks organizations how the exemption will provide a benefit to the community. This policy was introduced in 2012 and was the subject of some debate at the time. A big part of the debate for councillors was that the city was provided exemptions for organizations that operated commercial businesses on exempt land, for example, thrift shops.
Councillor Chris Coleman:
When we choose to give a permissive tax exemption to an organization for the good work they do, it’s the other taxpayers who pay their share.
Determining the amount of the remaining permissive tax exemptions for religious organizations in Victoria is somewhat more difficult than for other municipalities. While tax exemptions are broken out in the city's annual report, religious properties aren't totalled individually (like in Kamloops, for example).
Breaking out properties listed as being owned by churches or other religious organizations, Victoria granted a total of $587,185 in exemptions in 2017. Just over $100,000 went to Anglican Synod Diocese of BC alone (although this is likely due to it being a single entity with multiple properties).
District of Saanich
When we reached out to Saancih, they told us they provide permissive exemptions for religious properties and don't ask them to demonstrate a public benefit.
Pulling up their 2017 annual report shows this amounts to a total subsidy of $773,898 for 2017. The largest exemption went to the Salvation Army Victoria Citadel at $109,635.
District of Oak Bay
Oak Bay similarly seems to provide exemptions without any benefits test. However, like Victoria they don't break out religious groups in their annual report. Luckily there are only a handful of properties listed.
For 2017, Oak Bay forwent $60,513.36 with St Patrick's Church receiving the largest exemption of $26,844.55
City of Langford
Langford was the hardest to sort out. Their annual report lists the exemptions they give, a couple of which look like churches, but there's no accounting of the cost of these exemptions.
Town of Sidney
Sidney provides permissive exemptions for religious organizations but requires organizations to complete an application indicating what community benefits the property in question will provide. This is arguably more direct than municipalities that simply allow for a written free form response to what benefit the property provides.
Sidney's total exemptions for 2017 were $37,346.
District of Central Saanich
Similar to Sidney, Central Saanich asks applicants for a permissive exemption about the services it provides the community, albeit in a free form response.
Central Saanich granted a total of $124,886 in exemptions to religious properties in 2017.
District of North Saanich
Finally, North Saanich doesn't seem to have a clear policy but instead approves permissive tax exemptions at council. See this 2017 staff report as an example. North Saanich also combines all permissive tax exemptions in its annual report. Adding up only the religious properties for 2017 shows the district granted $42,745 in exemptions in 2017.
Join our campaign for fair property tax exemptions
Banner credit: Michal Klajban/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0