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Tax exemption for non-profit considered
Councillor questions whether status for Habitat for Humanity is warranted

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A decision on whether a Habitat for Humanity store should be allowed to forego paying municipal property taxes is expected at city hall this month, following a recent debate over the fairness of the move.

The organization, which has built affordable housing for two families in the city, is planning to open a store near the landfill later this year that would accept and resell building materials and large furniture. Revenue from the store would fund future housing projects. The next home is scheduled to be built in 2017.

Based on 2015 mill rates, it would pay $2,348.52 in property taxes.

It's leasing the land from the city for 30 years at a rate of $1 per year.

"In my view this is one small way that city can have a direct and lasting impact," Coun. Cory Vanthuyne said at the meeting, adding the organization gives back more than the city would effectively receive in taxes. Couns. Rebecca Alty and Dan Wong both expressed support for the idea.

Coun. Niels Konge was the initial the voice of dissent, saying he thinks the organization does good work but has had a limited impact so far compared to other groups.

"For me, at what point do we say enough is enough or do we open up the floodgates for other organizations to get tax grants?" Konge said.

"I don't think it's too much that they pay the taxes."

The city provides a tax exemption for church organizations as well as several registered societies that provide municipal services. The Northern Frontier Visitors Centre has a 70 per cent exemption, according to a city report. The report also states Habitat locations in other Canadian cities, although they aren't stores like what's proposed here, are subject to municipal taxes.

After questioning from Konge, Mayor Mark Heyck pointed out that Bailey House and Lynn's Place - which offer transitional housing - have special agreements for short-term tax exemptions. The land occupied by the SPCA is zoned agricultural to reduce its tax bill in the Engle Business District.

Coun. Adrian Bell questioned whether having special agreements for some and long-term exemptions for others opens council up to accusations of choosing favourites.

"I think we're creating a pretty nebulous system of exemptions here," Bell said.

Given there were enough councillors in support of the motion, it moved forward for a council vote later this month.

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