Today's front-page story of the Nanaimo Daily News asks whether it's time to end the millions of dollars in property tax breaks that are given away each year to religious organizations.
Journalist Spencer Anderson reports that the City of Nanaimo alone approved $170 736 in tax relief for church properties last year. These permissive exemptions are in addition to property tax exemptions for houses of worship required by BC law.
Ian Bushfield, executive director of the BC Humanist Association told the Nanaimo Daily News:
I guess the situation is that our cities and towns are under this intense financial pressure these days.
I mean, it really only makes sense that we should be able to consider any and all possible avenues to fund the infrastructure and the general social services that are available to every citizen without discrimination.
So I don’t personally have an issue with our society deciding collectively that we want to give some breaks that do genuinely give back to the whole community and run some important programs. But I think we need to challenge the assumption that religious organizations have this sort of guaranteed, automatic entitlement to get out of the duty to support the broader community.
It’s one thing to give breaks to groups that offer soup kitchens or a homeless shelter, for example; but it’s another thing entirely to ask taxpayers to subsidize a parking lot for a mega-church.
Anderson reports that Councillor Mark Rogers of the City of Dawson Creek argued for a cap on the exemptions awarded by the city. Rogers points out that one of his city's exemptions goes to an empty lot owned by a Catholic Church. His efforts were blocked by opposition from local religious groups though.
In November, coordinated opposition from religious organizations killed an attempt by Langley City council to debate the issue.