Victoria councillors want city to help after legion’s tax bill soars to $104,231

Victoria’s remaining active branch of the Royal Canadian Legion should be given a grant to offset an unexpected jump in property taxes to $104,231 from $71,371, say two city councillors.

“I genuinely think it would be a great loss to the community if they went under,” said Coun. Marianne Alto.

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The Trafalgar Pro Patricia Branch 292 at 411 Gorge Rd. E. was hit with the hike when the B.C. Assessment Authority determined that about 35 per cent of the branch property value arises from “recreation — not for profit,” while the remaining 65 per cent is considered “business/other,” Alto and Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe say in a report to councillors.

The 2019 property value assessment was $7,082,500, versus $4,292,000 in 2018.

The legion budgeted about $70,000 for taxes, so the unexpected increase has “placed a critical burden” on the branch, which might have to close, Alto and Thornton-Joe say.

The legion has applied to the city for an exemption from next year’s taxes, Alto said — something that would normally be considered in the fall.

“I think that it’s not a bad thing to say: ‘Look, this is a timely conversation and maybe we should have it now.’ ”

Most municipalities provide at least partial exemptions to legions, they said. Sidney provides a full exemption to the legion.

The two councillors are recommending that Victoria council provide a grant of $36,481 from contingency funds to cover the difference this year. As part of next year’s budget, they are suggesting a grant of $40,000 for the legion branch, rising by $5,000 a year until 2025, when it is to be reviewed.

Providing an operational grant of about 35 per cent of current and future tax assessments is probably on the lower range of other municipalities’ tax relief practices for legions, they say.

The councillors are also recommending that the mayor write to the province urging it to consider a provincewide policy or legislative change to fully exempt all legions in B.C. from paying property taxes.

Alto said there’s a larger provincial issue at stake. “I think it’s kind of foolhardy for us to be going through this every year with every legion in every municipality,” Alto said. “It doesn’t make sense that we would have all of these different answers when really the base question is the same: Should we be taxing Royal Canadian legions? That for me is the bottom line and the answer to that question for me is: I don’t think we should.”

A spokesperson for the legion could not be reached.

The two councillors note in their report that the Trafalgar branch will support a number of community agencies to the tune of $153,000 in 2019 including: Anawim House, Victoria Single Resource Centre, Burnside Gorge Community Association, Operation Trackshoes, Victoria Women’s Transition House, Victoria Hospice Society, Military Police Blind Children’s Fund, Gorge Soccer Association, Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, Veterans’ Transition Program, Vancouver Island Compassion Dog, Cockerell House, The Lodge at Broadmead and Legion Manor seniors housing.

Alto and Joe’s move comes weeks after Victoria councillors hastily retreated from a proposal to approach the Department of National Defence and Department of Veterans Affairs to help pay for policing at military events, including events such as Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Those council discussions, which fell on June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, sparked national outrage.

Alto said she has been working on the issue of the legion and its property taxes for years. “So for me personally, [the Remembrance Day discussion] is not an issue.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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