Lantzville denies tax exemption to private school

NANAIMO – Aspengrove School denied tax break by Lantzville council.

Lantzville officials have voted to tax Aspengrove School in what is being called the most extreme position taken by a B.C. municipality.

Lantzville council has denied Aspengrove a tax exemption next year, with opponents arguing the school isn’t in dire straits and residents shouldn’t subsidize a private school.

It’s the second time Lantzville council has called into question a permissive tax exemption for the institution, but the first time it will charge the school in full.

Last year it settled on waiving more than half the land tax. Aspengrove school executives had wanted to see a 100 per cent permissive tax exemption – or about $6,000 taken off their bill – and say they are disappointed by the decision not to give them any break at all.

The decision will see the school pay an estimated $17,000 in property taxes next year,  which will have a “huge impact” on the school’s ability to provide programming to students, says Iain McIver, a director on the Aspengrove school board.

It will also make the school the only institution in B.C. not to receive a tax break, according to the Federation of Independent School Associations B.C.

Since 2012, four municipalities have considered removing permissive tax exemptions for independent schools but two have now granted the requests and another, the City of Victoria, has opted to reduce its exemption by five per cent a year to a maximum of 50 per cent, said the federation’s B.C. executive director Peter Froese, adding Lantzville is “definitely taking the most extreme position of any municipality in British Columbia.”

The federation is lobbying the province to take permissive tax exemptions for independent schools out of the hands of local government but Froese said Lantzville’s decision is worrisome.

“The concern is other municipalities may look at it and say well, OK, if Lantzville can do that, maybe we can as well and this could be the thin edge of the wedge where independent schools are incurring costs where they shouldn’t,” Froese  said.

While municipalities are required to give tax breaks for independent school buildings, it’s their right to decide if they should also exempt the rest of the property like playgrounds and parking lots. The federation and Aspengrove executives argue they provide a value to the community as a not-for-profit educational institution, land holder and employer, and should be exempt from taxes the same as schools in the public system.

But Lantzville Coun. Jennifer Millbank called it a fairness issue.

“If you choose to send your children to private school that is your right as a parent to make that determination, but it’s not something that the other residents should be subsidizing,” she said, pointing out that fundamentally the school is an opportunity only for a few.

Councillors Graham Savage, Andrew Mostad and Mayor Jack de Jong also voted against giving the exemption.