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Comment: Charities, non-profits enhance our quality of life

This week, a special council meeting was held. It was expected to be a hard meeting for council members. Actually, it was an inspiring meeting.

This week, a special council meeting was held. It was expected to be a hard meeting for council members.

Actually, it was an inspiring meeting.

Council held a special meeting Tuesday to hear from non-profit agencies and charities who would be affected by a proposed reduction to the city’s permissive tax exemptions.

The current focus on tax relief to residents led to a review of permissive tax exemptions that provide property-tax relief to certain properties, such as those owned or occupied by charitable or non-profit organizations.

The review was brought in to see if we can better reflect the city’s strategic priorities and address budget challenges. Our goal is to create an affordable city, a livable city. What we heard on Tuesday was that cutting support to these organizations would counter our shared goal of livability.

We heard from representatives from faith organizations, social-service agencies, health-service providers, arts groups, recreation centres and youth service groups.

The Single Parent Resource Centre talked about the work they do to assist vulnerable families and low-income single parents in our community. The YMCA told us how they share the City of Victoria’s goal of providing for the health, welfare and recreational needs of our citizens. The Red Cross spoke of the value that they bring to residents through their medical equipment loan program, emergency response and safety training. The MS Society told us about the counselling services, physical therapy and equipment that they provide for people with multiple sclerosis and their caregivers.

We heard that cutting permissive tax exemptions for these groups would destabilize organizations, risking service reductions, even closure.

Music halls and stages could go silent.

Others would have to divert their volunteer efforts from providing services and supports to fundraising.

The Scouts raise $6,000 from bottle drives each year — without a tax exemption, they would be required to double their efforts to raise $12,000. The Girl Guides hit a nerve when they shared that they would have to sell 14,500 extra boxes of cookies each year to pay for the cost of their grant removal.

The money that some organizations make through thrift-store sales or parking to support poverty-relief programs and food banks would be diverted to pay for the lack of tax exemption.

The concern was that, without support from the city through tax exemptions, these organizations would have to spend all their time raising funds instead of doing good work and supporting youth, families, the vulnerable and the ill.

I left the meeting with an understanding that our city and our society would be a lesser place if these services, supports, programs and cultural activities were reduced. We would lose vibrancy and a sense of caring and community. The community would be poorer for it.

At city hall, we will constantly explore options to keep taxes affordable for residents, but we should not do it at the expense of the quality of life of our residents, the quality of our community.

Victoria has amazing people who are doing extraordinary things. They should be celebrated and supported.

Council will make a final decision on the city’s permissive tax-exemption policy on May 2.

Dean Fortin is mayor of Victoria.

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