Church Contributions and Contributions to Churches

Ron Bolin: Dec. 16, 2014
Religion plays an important part in the life of communities and its role has been legislated into our economic life as well. Recent events had brought this to my attention as events have uncovered some holes in the legislation which, to my way of thinking, cast doubt on integrity of the connection between our religious and our secular life as a community.

Last year the roof literally fell in at 91 Chapel Street, part of which was registered as a church/place of worship, demonstrating that it was not only unfit to perform the role for which a tax exemption was granted, but that it had no doubt been in an unusable condition for some time. Nevertheless, this property was registered for both the mandatory provincial property tax exemption (on the building and the land immediately beneath it). Its assessed value in 2013, the year the roof collapsed, was $783,000 with a tax exemption of $423,000. The structure on the property was assessed at $10,000 and granted a full exemption.

A few days ago the property at 2992 104th Street came before Council for a rezoning to a small lot subdivision. City records show that the land and improvements were assessed at $397,400 in 2014. Tax on both were exempted so that the property paid no tax, even though it appears as though the “church” structure has not been used for public worship for many years. Indeed, the assessment of the structure on the property is considerably less than the 25% of the land value and thus has been eligible for involuntary demolition by the City for some time. This path has recently been taken on a number of derelict or semi derelict properties in Nanaimo.

Again in this case, and for an unknown number of years, the property taxes which were not paid by the religious owners of this property have had to be made up by other taxpayers.

Several questions arise from these examples:

First, who is minding the store? Who determines whether any structure owned by a religious organization is used as a place of worship in any part or all of any tax year? Who monitors this on behalf of the taxpayers of Nanaimo? How much are taxpayers providing for religion? My inquiries have led to fingers pointing back and forth between the City and BC Assessment in this regard. It seems that there are neither annual papers to be filed nor any annual inspections.

Second, why, in this day and age, should permissive tax exemptions be automatically given by any municipality to any religious organization, regardless of its contribution to the community at large? If the citizens of any municipality wish to provide property tax exemptions for religious organizations, perhaps it should be for the charitable service to the community which they provide rather than simply for existing. There are a number of charitable organizations which are given property tax exemptions for their service to the community and it would not be amiss for churches/religious organizations to apply for such status indicating the service which they provide.

Find below the legislation dealing with church/religious exemptions

Provincial Legislation (from the Community Charter)

Division 6 — Statutory Exemptions
General statutory exemptions

220 (1) Unless otherwise provided in this Act or the Local Government Act, the following property is exempt from taxation to the extent indicated:

(h) a building set apart for public worship, and the land on which the building stands, if title to the land is registered in the name of

(i) the religious organization using the building,

(ii) trustees for the use of that organization, or

(iii) a religious organization granting a lease of the building and land to be used solely for public worship;

Division 7 — Permissive Exemptions
General authority for permissive exemptions

224 (1) A council may, by bylaw in accordance with this section, exempt land or improvements, or both, referred to in subsection (2) from taxation under section 197 (1) (a) [municipal property taxes], to the extent, for the period and subject to the conditions provided in the bylaw.

(2) Tax exemptions may be provided under this section for the following:

(f) in relation to property that is exempt under section 220 (1) (h) [buildings for public worship],

(i) an area of land surrounding the exempt building,

(ii) a hall that the council considers is necessary to the exempt building and the land on which the hall stands, and

(iii) an area of land surrounding a hall that is exempt under subparagraph (ii);

(g) land or improvements used or occupied by a religious organization, as tenant or licensee, for the purpose of public worship or for the purposes of a hall that the council considers is necessary to land or improvements so used or occupied;

City of Nanaimo Bylaw (City Bylaws)
TITLE

1. This Bylaw may be cited as the “PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION BYLAW 2014 NO. 7201”.

CHURCHES

2. Subject to Section 3 of this Bylaw, the Church lands, together with the buildings thereon, listed on the attached Schedule ‘A’ and further clarified in Maps ‘A-1’ to ‘A-10’, shall be exempt from taxation.

3. Church halls situated upon lands described in Schedule ‘A’ of this Bylaw, whether such halls are within church buildings or apart there from, are deemed to be necessary to their respective church operations.

4. The maximum area of land to be exempted from taxation shall be 2.0 acres (87,120 sq. ft.) of the land upon which the buildings for public worship stand plus the footprint of the building(s) used for public worship. This exempted area will not exceed the land area of the legal parcel(s) upon which these buildings stand.

Your comments on this touchy topic are invited.

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