Port Alberni non-profits not happy with permissive tax exemption policy

New policy reduces exemptions for organizations with alcohol sales, commercial sales

A number of non-profit organizations in Port Alberni are concerned about changes to the city’s Permissive Tax Exemptions.

Council approved an amended policy for permissive tax exemptions on Monday, Sept. 16, in which organizations that earned income through the sale of alcohol or commercial activities have had their eligible assessed values reduced.

Brent Ronning, chair for the Portal Players Dramatic Society, said on Monday that the new policy “unfairly” targets the arts community because it goes after “non-traditional” fundraising ideas for non-profits.

“We know that, in our modern British Columbia, social profits are what keep non-profit societies going,” he said. “Arts organizations are less well-supported in communities. We have to be creative in how we fundraise.”

This includes things like gift shops and alcohol sales, he said. The alcohol sales, in particular, cost the society “a substantial amount of money” in order to maintain a liquor license and keep the bar stocked.

“Would the city prefer that we non-profits rely more on traditional fundraising and ask our community for donations, rather than providing goods and services?” he asked on Monday.

He added that he is concerned it is a “slippery slope.” What will the city go after next, he wondered out loud.

Claudia Romaniuk, the chair of Port Alberni’s Community Arts Council, also expressed concern about a reduction in permissive tax exemptions this year. The arts council is receiving $4,340 of taxes exempt, leaving $753 taxes to be paid. This is based on the $26,000 in revenue the arts council made with their gift shop and gallery last year.

“The $26,000, I would like everyone to understand, is the gross revenue,” explained Romaniuk. “We pay 70 percent of that $26,000 to the artists who put their things in our gift shop or exhibit at our gallery.”

She added that the arts council is feeling “a bit aggrieved” because they put “a huge effort” into fundraising and applying for grants last year. They put “every single cent” of their efforts into the building, grounds and garden at the Rollin Art Centre.

“We didn’t take any for ourselves,” she added. “This is all for a building and grounds that we do not own. This building and grounds is owned by the City of Port Alberni, who declined to help us with doing this.”

On Monday, council voted to approve the changes to the city’s permissive tax exemptions. The new policy has to be finalized by the end of October—otherwise, no one in the community will receive their exemptions.

“If we don’t file it, then we cannot give a permissive tax exemption to a single organization in the community,” said Mayor Sharie Minions, adding that the time to make changes was when the policy was first put forward.

“I’m really torn,” added Councillor Dan Washington. “But I’m also afraid that if we drag our heels on this then…everybody’s going to lose.”

Minions took to Facebook after the council meeting, clarifying that the city had been in contact with all recipients of tax exemptions, letting them know of the changes.

The decision to change the city’s tax exemption policy, she said, came after a review of tax exemption policies from 20 other communities across the province.

“The thought behind reducing the exemption for commercial or alcohol sales was that not every society has the ability to gain revenue through those sales,” she said. “We were trying to focus the funds for exemptions on societies with the most limited ability to generate revenue. That may not be the right approach, but it’s the one we took. It can be amended going forward.”

The city wanted to create “some level of fairness” in what different societies were receiving, she said. “Because right now it’s all over the map with some benefiting significantly more than others. And some of the ones benefiting the most also collect other government grants or have significant other revenue sources.”

She added that council is considering broadening the scope of the Community Investment Program, which provides assistance to non-profit organizations.

“I understand that it’s difficult to see this now, but there is a bigger picture restructuring of how we support good work and initiatives in our community going on,” she finished. “Please work with us as we move through this process.”


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