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School tax relief revisited

Alison Taylor’s article entitled "Property values soar in 2003 assessments" published on Jan. 10 reported that "the total value of all properties in Whistler increased by $2.2 billion," but failed to distinguish between residential and commercial properties which, for school tax purposes are treated quite differently. Commercial properties (only 16.5 per cent of the total assessments) are taxed at fixed rates for each of their classifications, which rates are the same over the entire province and have remained the same for a number of years. By distinction, different residential tax rates for each school district are set by the province each year under its complicated tax allocation formula based on the number of property occurrences and the total residential assessed values in each school district. The province also has the authority to set a special residential school tax rate for a particular municipality (legislated in 2002) that is different from the rate for the rest of its school district. When this amendment was introduced the province stated in a news release that:

"This authority will only be used in limited situations where disparities in average values among communities in the same school district become extreme."

The threshold for "extreme" cases was set by the province as being where the multiple by which a particular municipality’s average single family assessment exceeded the average in the rest of the school district was greater than 2. To afford tax relief to a qualifying municipality, it was then to be treated as a "stand-alone" school district under the province’s tax allocation formula and its residential mil rate reduced accordingly.

Last year the single family (S.F.) multiple for Whistler was 4.2 times the average in the rest of the district. The only other qualifying municipality was Tofino with a multiple of 2.3 times. Inexplicably no tax relief was extended to Whistler while Tofino had its gross taxes reduced by 22 per cent, resulting in a 35 per cent reduction for the average permanent resident owner who qualified for the Home Owner’s Grant (HOG) and paid an average net tax of $527, while the average single family tax in Whistler remained at $2,273.

The recently released assessment figures for 2003 disclose that the total residential assessments in Whistler have risen by 37 per cent over last year, from $4.98 to $6.855 billion and the average single family assessment rose by 32per cent from $786,676 to $1,038,049, increasing its S.F. multiple over the average in the rest of the district to 4.865 from 4.2 in 2002.

Over the past eight months, a series of meetings have been held between Whistler representatives and our local MLA, the Minister of Finance, the Deputy Minister of Finance and officials of that Ministry’s Tax Policy Branch to review extensive briefs and submissions justifying Whistler’s need for and entitlement to school tax relief. Nothing further has been heard from Victoria since the end of November other than previous assurances that our plight was understood and something would be done and reflected in the provincial budget for 2003, scheduled to be presented sometime after mid-February.

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