After releasing the responses we received to our survey of BC municipalities' various approaches to permissive tax exemptions for religious organizations, I spoke to Radio NL in Kamloops about their city's approach.
Kamloops, like most cities in BC, does give permissive tax exemptions to religious properties and doesn't apply a clear public benefits test. However, the local details provide a glimpse into how complex these questions can be across the province.
Under its 2005 policy on Permissive Tax Exemptions for Places of Worship", the City of Kamloops sets out certain eligibility criteria for land held by churches. Specifically, Council says that it will not grant exemptions for:
- Vacant land that a church organization is holding for future use and/or investment purposes; or
- Property that is used exclusively for parking, unless it is in direct relationship to the Place of Worship.
In other words, the only lands that Kamloops exempts for religious organizations are those that are directly connected to the room where people pray (which has to be given an exemption). So where there are concerns in some communities that local taxpayers are subsidizing religious groups for holding onto vacant lots, the City of Kamloops has sought a narrower approach to the issue.
Beyond this eligibility, the City requires organizations seeking the exemption to file an application with City Hall. Council may then grant an exemption for up to five years and may require the organization to make a presentation in person. These rules are pretty standard across the province.
So while there's no specific requirement to demonstrate the value of the exemption to the broader community, Kamloops Councillors could force the question during a council meeting.
Turning to the costs of these exemptions, the City of Kamloops helpfully breaks out the value of permissive tax exemptions for places of worship in its annual report. On page 54 of the 2017 report, it shows the value of these exemptions to be $340,731. For 2016, the value was $300,817.
The largest single beneficiary is the Roman Catholic Bishops of Kamloops whose properties receive over $45,000 in exemptions. The Kamloops Alliance Church receives a $39,614 exemption for its Leigh Road property and the Kamloops Calvary Community Church received a $39,903 exemption for its property on Rogers Way.
The City of Kamloops also provides exemptions to a large number of non-profit organizations. These organizations are required to demonstrate their benefit to the broader community. Some of these groups, like New Life Mission (The Mustard Seed Kamloops), are connected to religious groups but generally provide charitable services like shelter or food for the homeless.