Victoria expands tax exemption eligibility to ethno-cultural groups

Victoria is expanding eligibility for property tax exemptions to cultural groups that own and operate community centres in the city, some of which have been hit with huge tax increases recently.

The city’s current policy ­provides a 100 per cent exemption from property tax for special needs and supportive housing, social services, arts and culture, places of worship and rail properties, as well as 50 per cent for athletic or recreational facilities.

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Victoria council voted Thursday to expand the eligibility to include ethno-cultural community centres, to take effect for 2022 property taxes. There appear to be six cultural groups in the city affected by the expanded eligibility, a staff report says. Groups will have to apply for the exemption.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday who brought the motion forward with councillors Ben Isitt and Sharmarke Dubow, said it came from years of discussion with cultural centres, which have been hit hard by the pandemic and have been challenged financially by rising land costs.

“I do think that if we do not go in this direction, some of these centres will be under threat in the years to come, and that would be a huge blow to our community,” he said.

Jerry Dardengo, president of the Victoria Italian Assistance Centre, said the exemption will have a massive impact for the cultural centre, which was surprised by property taxes this year that are about triple the amount they paid last year, jumping from about $17,000 to $60,000.

The increase comes at a time when the centre’s income has been slashed to about one-tenth of pre-pandemic levels, because they earn money through renting the hall and holding events, Dardengo said.

Angela Plasterer, director of the German Canadian Cultural Society of Victoria, said the society — which runs the Edelweiss Club in James Bay — is delighted they’re now eligible after asking for a tax exemption for years.

The exemption will benefit not just members, but the wider community who use the Edelweiss Club’s large space, which fits about 350 people, she said. The space has a sprung dance floor and is often used by groups that need a bit of give in the floor, like wrestling and ball room dancing, Plasterer said.

“Every day, there’s people from the community using that hall — not during COVID, of course, but generally speaking, yes — and that hall can’t be replaced,” she said.

The society saw a jump in their assessment two years ago, resulting in property taxes that were nearly four times higher. They were able to reduce the taxes by putting a covenant that restricts them from ­redeveloping the property, ­Plasterer said.

The board of Norway House thanked council for extending tax exemption eligibility to ethno-cultural community centres, saying in an email the volunteer-run centre has been hard hit by a doubling of their tax assessment this year.

Council included a limitation that where parking lots comprise more than 50 per cent of the cultural centre’s property, the exemption for the parking lot portion will be reduced by 20 per cent annually over a five-year period.

Loveday expressed concerns that limiting the exemption for parking lot areas is unfair, because the parking lots of other exempt properties are tax-exempt, prompting Mayor Lisa Helps to propose applying the limitation to all exempt properties. That discussion was shelved until next week.

Linda Murray, board president of Norway House, said they would likely be affected by the limitation, but it was too soon to say definitively.

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