Iain McIver

Iain McIver

Lantzville reduces Aspengrove tax exemption by half

Lantzville council has reconsidered its decision to completely nix a permissive tax exemption for Aspengrove School in 2014.

Aspengrove School executives say they are grateful for an 11th-hour decision to waive more than half of its land tax next year. But the school won’t give up its fight to see permissive tax exemptions for independent schools taken out of the hands of municipal government, a board member says.

The District of Lantzville backtracked on a recent decision not to grant a $6,070 permissive tax exemption to Aspengrove School, instead opting to reduce the tax break to 51 per cent in 2014. The vote was made unanimously Oct. 30, several days before the deadline for a tax exemption bylaw.

Lantzville council initially decided not to give the school a permissive tax exemption, citing low participation rates by local students and concerns about residents being double taxed for education.

But Coun. Jennifer Millbank said the school seemed unprepared financially to pay the tax and council members faced a ‘deadlock’ vote on its tax exemption bylaw over the issue. Without an approved bylaw, no organizations would receive a tax break, Millbank said, adding a 51 per cent exemption was “something of a compromise.”

It will also allow the school more time to prepare for next year, when the district will reconsider the permissive tax exemption, Millbank said.

Aspengrove School executives said they are pleased and grateful for the reduced tax bill, which will help reduce budget pressure. However, they still plan to lobby the province to make tax breaks mandatory for independent schools so there isn’t “this flip-flopping back and forth,” said school principal, Zinda FitzGerald.

Currently the municipality is required to give tax exemptions for independent school buildings.

But council has the right to choose if they also give breaks for the rest of the property, like playgrounds.

“Two years ago [Lantzville] granted the exemption and two years [later] it is taken away because of the whim of the council elected at the time. So how can we stop [that]?” she said.

Aspengrove member Iain McIver said he is pleased with the partial tax break, calling it a step in the right direction, but “in general, we remain steadfast that we should be receiving the complete permissive tax exemption.”

Other not-for-profits, like churches, are given tax exemption because the district believes the existence of the organizations are a benefit to the community. “We believe we are as much a benefit to the community … and therefore [should be] treated in the same way,” he said.

Coun. Andrew Mostad said the district will have ongoing dialogue with the school on other ways to support the school other than through tax breaks. He said Lantzville residents seem to like Aspengrove in their community but are not prepared to support it financially each year. There also appears to be “quite a lot of appetite” among council to nix tax breaks for the school in 2015, Mostad said.