Several members of St.Joseph's Roman Catholic Church spoke to council Monday night in opposition of the permissive property tax exemption strategy.

Several members of St.Joseph's Roman Catholic Church spoke to council Monday night in opposition of the permissive property tax exemption strategy.

Sea of protest over City proposal to cut tax break

Motion to reduce permissive tax exemption dies without discussion, as church and non-profit reps line up to denounce plan

A strategy to reduce property tax exemptions for 29 church and non-profit properties was met by a sea of protesters at Langley City council on Monday night.

Council chambers was overflowing with people from several of the affected groups, including the Langley Hospice Society, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Langley Stepping Stone society and the Langley Association for Community Living.

“Your withdrawal of the permissive tax exemption makes a statement to the donor community that there is not a need, nor a value in what we do,” said Langley Lodge CEO Debra Hauptman, the first of 18 speakers to voice their disapproval.

The strategy calls for a five per cent reduction in permissive tax exemptions each year for five years, for churches, non-profit organizations on City land, the Langley Hospice Society and the Langley Association for Community Living. It also recommends reduction of one per cent of the land value and one per cent of the building value for 13 other non-profit properties, and the elimination of exemptions for the Global School Society, which operates a Montessori school, and Ishtar Transition House, whose property is owned by the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation.

For St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, the financial burden would force them to close their doors after serving Langley for 94 years, said Rev. Paula Porter Leggett. Although the province provides permissive taxes on the actual building of worship, the City has historically looked after the remaining property and parking lots.

“This would result in the elimination of the Anglican church in the City of Langley, all the services it provides and the non-profit groups who rely on us would have to find other spaces, likely at a cost they would have difficulty managing,” she said.

“I think the cost to the City will be well more than what you will find yourselves receiving.”

If all tax exemptions were eliminated, the strategy claims to save taxpayers $257,537 per year, or $20.88 for the average single family home, $8.60 for the average multifamily strata property and $187 for the average business property.

But in reality, this plan causes everyone to lose, said resident Elizabeth Barrett.

“I am truly, truly heartbroken to think that this council is under the ill-conceived notion that by demanding tax from all of these charities, that I would be grateful that you can save me $20 a year,” she said.

“This figure is an absolute fantasy, because who do you think is invested in all these groups? Taxpayers.”

These organizations also do work that the City “can’t or won’t do,” said Rev. Lawrence Donnelly of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

They provide food for the poor, including a Christmas dinner that feeds 300 people every year, and emotional support to those who “are broken inside and need to be heard,” he said.

“Part of our mandate, the churches are there for the worship of God and for the service of our neighbour. And we do this without looking for thanks, without looking for remuneration, but just out of love for our fellow man who stand before us in need. We do what we can to help them.”

Speaker Don Shilton called it a “robbery” of charities.

“You would be the only greedy municipality in Canada to obtain this cash grab from charities — shame on you,” he said.

One of the final speakers of the night, Dan Ritchie, called the move “political suicide.”

“If it was fair, then why wouldn’t every other city council across British Columbia and Canada be looking at the same thing?” he asked.

The audience erupted in applause when the motion failed, after no member of council agreed to second it.