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Fairness, equity missing in condo taxes

Problem grows as province encourages resort development

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By Alison Taylor

Jim Allard is livid his property tax bill in Whistler hovers around the $7,000 mark for his Tantalus Lodge condo unit.

Just across the village, at the Glacier Lodge, Allard’s brother pays around $2,000 in property taxes.

“We both do exactly the same thing,” said Allard, who is in the gravel business in the Lower Mainland. “That’s not right.”

The two-bedroom properties are easily comparable, even assessed at roughly the same value. But while one brother pays the residential tax rate (Class 1), the other pays the much higher commercial tax rate (Class 6), even though both properties go into a rental pools when not being used by their owners. A loophole in the provincial tax system allows for the disparity.

After years of Whistler lobbying for solutions the provincial government is now involved in a review. Industry stakeholders have put forward several solutions as part of the review, but to date none of them have been acceptable.

Rick Thorpe, Minister of Small Business and Revenue, was not available for comment before Pique Newsmagazine ’s deadline this week but the ministry’s director of communications, Theresa Lumsdon, confirmed the review has been underway since spring 2006.

“It’s a priority of our assessment system and the matters at hand, especially for strata hotels, are complex and difficult to resolve due to the tax implications on property owners and the revenue impacts on municipalities,” said Lumsdon.

Though all sides are essentially calling for the same thing — fairness and equity in the tax system — the solutions are not easy to come by. Raising one brother’s tax bill, for example, is not a popular option for any government; lowering the other brother’s taxes will have a significant impact on municipal revenues, particularly Whistler’s.

“One of our fears is that (the province will) come up with a solution that is good for everybody else except Whistler,” said Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed, adding that a worst-case scenario could mean a $2.5 million budget shortfall for the municipality.

Whistler’s position is that the solution should be revenue neutral to municipalities.

“It’s completely the province’s responsibility and they know they have a big challenge,” said the mayor. “If it had been easy it would have been fixed by now and this is one of those very complicated, very divisive issues that I think, ultimately, it’s going to require the province to take a tough position.”

Whistler has been asking for resolution on the issue for several years. It was the proverbial canary in the tax classification coalmine, sounding the alarm to the provincial government about problems in their tax classification system for several years. Whistler had long been the lone community with a multitude of condo hotels, and as such most affected by the issue.

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