By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Jan 3, 2018
Paying taxes is never fun but it will be more agonizing next year knowing a major development in town is getting a tax break, thanks to the Squamish council. And the council couldn’t have picked a worse time to vote in favour of tax breaks for this is an election year and small businesses and citizens are bound to remember this slight when they get out to cast their vote later this year.
“I find it disingenuous for the applicant to be bringing this forward in this manner. We have the least margin for exempting folks for taxes and I don’t think this is an effective way to incentivise economic development,” Coun. Jason Blackman-Wulff
Mayor Patricia Heintzman and Councillors Doug Race, Karen Elliott, and Peter Kent voted in favour of continuing the tax breaks for the SODC developer while Councillor Susan Chapelle voted against the proposal. Councillor Jason Blackman-Wulff was absent, although he strongly opposed the tax breaks at another meeting in November.
The developer successfully negotiated the tax exemption on building on the Oceanfront development to be included in the final sale and purchase agreement for ten years. At that time, staff supported the tax exemption at the request of the developer, noting that SODC lands would generate employment and investment.
The council was assured at that time by the staff and the district consultant that the council has the ultimate power to suspend or renew the exemptions.
That promised power to give or withhold the tax breaks somehow seemed to have weakened in the council chamber as supportive councillors argued to keep the tax breaks. And staff now wants council to continue the tax breaks for fear the district may be sued by the developer.
A representative of the developer said the tax incentives are a great tool to bring businesses to the Oceanfront land and no one seemed to agree more than Councillor Doug Race, the loudest voice in support of continuing the tax holiday for the developer.
Race said the council would be acting in bad faith if it didn’t honour the contract and discontinued the tax breaks, adding that small business would ultimately benefit from this tax holiday. “It would reflect very badly on the community if we went ahead and repealed the bylaw. To move the goal post is a wrong thing for the government to do. It’s the worse thing we can do for the development community,” said Councillor Race.
Councillor Blackman-Wulff and Susan Chapelle had a different take. “I find it disingenuous for the applicant to be bringing this forward in this manner. We have the least margin for exempting folks for taxes and I don’t think this is an effective way to incentivise economic development,” he said before voting against the motion to keep the tax breaks.
Coun. Susan Chapelle said Squamish doesn’t have a robust budget to support the tax breaks and both small and big business should be paying the same amount of taxes, especially when they are getting similar benefit.
Mayor Patricia Heintzman hedged her bets, saying she could see the merits of both arguments but ultimately decided to support the tax breaks. The council decided that the exemptions be reviewed on a semi-annual basis.