Victoria mayoral candidates spar over charity ‘tax grab’

Muck started flying in the Victoria election race Friday with mayoral candidate Ida Chong claiming the city was clawing back property tax exemptions from churches and charities, prompting Mayor Dean Fortin to say she was fear-mongering.

Meanwhile, Coun. Lisa Helps said neither had their facts right.

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“It’s appalling that Dean Fortin and Lisa Helps justify a tax grab on charities, non-profits and churches with the word ‘fairness,’ ” Chong said in a statement. “How desperate for revenue do you need to be to target charities, non-profits and churches?”

Chong said tax exemptions for charities is the “last place” the city should be looking for more revenue. “Under Mayor Dean Fortin, there has been zero spending control at Victoria City Hall and obviously we shouldn’t expect any from Lisa Helps, either,” she said.

“We didn’t do any of this,” Fortin said. “Staff were recommending that we make changes [on tax status] for commercial activities [of non-profits] and we said no.”

He also noted that a number of organizations Chong cited as losing their tax exemptions have not been affected.

“This letter that she has put out is full of misinformation and really is fear-mongering. It was brought to me from someone from the Salvation Army that was claiming they were losing their permissive tax exemption. They are not,” Fortin said. The only properties that receive a 50 per cent tax exemption are certain recreation facilities, he said.

Council’s practice has been to give churches, charities and non-profits tax exemptions, known as permissive tax exemption.

“Ida has continued to get it wrong from Day One,” Fortin said.

Chong’s campaign staff said they were not fear-mongering.

“In our view, taking thousands of dollars from charities, community groups and churches amounts to nothing more than a tax increase directly targeted at these important organizations. Its emblematic of city leadership desperate for cash and targeting a specific and vulnerable group.”

Helps was also critical of Chong’s claims. “She doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. If Ida wants to critique a policy, she should understand it in the first place,” Helps said.

But, she said, Fortin was not right, either. Until 2006, certain organizations, such as churches and community groups, received exemptions of 100 per cent, Helps said. That year, council decided that all new organizations of certain classes applying for tax exemptions would get only a 50 per cent exemption.

Last year, in reviewing the policy, council decided to level the playing field, choosing to phase in, over a period of 10 years, a reduction of the tax exemption levels for the grandfathered organizations to 50 per cent from 100 per cent, Helps said.

“So what this decision does is it makes it fair, so that every worthy organization in this city who is delivering really important services is getting the same attention and care from their city council.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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