Monday, Oct. 7, 2013: The Day the Game Changed
Ron Bolin: Oct. 4, 2013
On Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, the struggle for downtown Nanaimo gears up for a transformative change. On that day Council will authorize a 21 storey, 240 room hotel which also includes 14 commercial rental units to be located at 100 Gordon Street. Notable about this hotel is that it represents a business plan which will have far reaching ramifications for Nanaimo in the coming years. The project is presented by SSS Manhao International Tourism Group of China which will incorporate NITG tourist activities as well as condominium participation in bringing clients to Nanaimo from China, i.e. the hotel is not totally dependent on the vagaries of the accidental tourist market, but is directed from a known source. This source will undoubtedly develop other clusters of tourism related businesses which can rely on the influx and should generate good things for Nanaimo’s downtown as the concept develops. It also proposes to open a channel from the waterfront to downtown which has long been missing.
This development might be near perfect if it weren’t for the 10 year “revitalization” tax exemption which goes with it. But it must be quickly noted that this not a concession to this project, but was opened by Council last year to any Hotel/motel business which would either build a new structure in Nanaimo or perform significant upgrades here. Now that we have (almost) the new hotel –and it sounds like a good one at 4 diamonds or better with a swimming pool and two rooftop restaurants- I hope that Council will consider putting a time limit on additional “revitalization” exemptions. Off the top of my head I am going to estimate that the cost to other Nanaimo taxpayers of the exemption given to this hotel will run somewhere around $350,000 to $450,000 per year for each of the 10 years following its completion. It should be noted that the Staff report does not give any estimate of the cost of the exemption for this project or for others as they are brought forward. This should not be tolerated.
For more about the hotel see Items 8(a) and (b) at:
Monday’s meeting can also be seen as the night of the exemptions. In addition to the hotel renovation exemption we have the Grants Advisory Committee Recommendation for a Permissive Tax Exemption to be granted to the United Way for a property at 9-327 Prideaux Street which last Monday received a transfer of $60,000 in funds designated for parks development to the purchase price of that same property. Again perhaps a worthy cause, but one which will have to be paid by other ratepayers as exemptions do not lead to any decrease in the costs of running the City. For more see the agenda shown above and look for item 9(e). Again, no estimate of the cost of this exemption is given in the report. Is Council aware of these cost estimates before they vote on them?
Another batch of “permissive”, i.e. discretionary, exemptions are to be given their first three readings at this meeting, see item 9(f). This group covers 156 properties serviced by 115 organizations which receive permissive tax exemptions (see Property Tax Exemption Bylaw 2013 No. 7177). The total sum which must be made up by other taxpayers to cover City expenditures was, in 2013 for the City Portion only, $1,429,962 with the largest going to the Port Theatre in the sum of $284,053. There are many worthy causes out there, but at some point we must ask ourselves if picking some pockets to put what has been picked into other pockets is not robbing Peter to pay Paul and at what point Peter will have to join Paul.
Not on this agenda is a list of other gifts, grants, and honoraria which in 2012 totaled some $3,783,354 which must also come from the pockets of general Nanaimo taxpayers. The largest of these in 2012 went to NEDC ($1,563,529); the Port Theatre Society ($474,474); the Nanaimo & District Museum Society ($334,615) and Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement ($328,545). Put it all together, include the Heritage tax exemptions, the $10,000 exemption for businesses granted by the Province, special rules for the taxation of City, Provincial and Federal lands and we are talking a serious pile of money which must be extracted from other ratepayers. I have yet to find a comprehensive guide to all these items and one should be undertaken before we get much further into the 2014 budget process. [I believe I am correct in believing that “Homeowner” grants are funded by the Province of BC and do not place an additional burden on local property taxpayers.]
We are also (see agenda item 10(a)) proposing to add another $37,400 to the already approved $160,000 which was previously allocated to the remediation of the Nanaimo Centre Stage. The extent to which this will complete repairs for the next 10 years remains to be seen.
Also on Monday’s Agenda is the long awaited report (I believe about a year overdue) on dealing with the minutes of in-camera meetings. There has been a good deal of consternation in the past few years about what is taking place in secret meetings of Council. These meetings which arise from section 90 of the Community Charter which deals with in-camera meetings can arise from situations described in the Charter as matters which “may” be taken in camera (Section 90-1) or a much shorter list which “must” be taken by Council in-camera. I would estimate that in Nanaimo probably 90 to 95% of in-camera meetings are taken by reasons of “may” rather than of “must”. While I will wait to see the list of all in-camera meetings; the corresponding minutes of those which will be released; the extent to which they may be redacted and particularly the vote count on important issues, before I wax too generous, I sincerely hope that this report, along with a proposed new budget format, represents a new era in transparency in Nanaimo. And the truth shall set us free….
Monday’s meeting will be one worth watching.