Condo owners getting political 

WSOA fighting commercial tax classification

Some of Whistler’s second homeowners are starting to take action and find ways to voice their concerns.

In the past year the Whistler Strata Owners Association was formed in an effort to protect the interests of condo owners in the resort, many of whom do not live here year-round, and give them a collective voice.

The primary policy focus of the group said Horstman House Strata Chair Gary Gardner, who was instrumental in forming the group, is the ongoing struggles of condo owners against commercial property taxes.

"Second homeowners are not taxed at the same rate (as resident homeowners) because a disproportionate number of second homeowners are paying commercial property tax classification," said the Seattle resident who has owned a unit at Horstman House since 2000.

The commercial property tax rate, or Class 6, is more than three and a half times higher than the Class 1, or residential, property tax rate.

Some strata hotels are taxed at the commercial rate, others at the residential rate, creating a unique system and a unique problem – why are some units taxed at a higher rate than others when for all intents and purposes they operate the same way?

The provincial government sets the tax rate and the formula for classifying each project.

Gardner said the B.C. Assessment Authority has been trying to reclassify the Horstman House strata to Class 6 commercial and owners have been appealing that for the past three years.

The strata council has even delayed a $15,000 upgrade to the property as it waits for a resolution to the appeal. Gardner thinks this could happen elsewhere in the resort because with commercial taxes so high, there may not be enough money left over for upgrades, marketing and other things.

"Nobody thinks about the non-resident owner because the non-resident owner isn’t saying anything," said Gardner. "The non-resident owner doesn’t really have a channel to say anything."

That has changed, he said, with the formation of the WSOA, which gives strata owners a collective voice for their concerns.

And as it turns out, strata owners have other common issues and the WSOA can be used as a networking group to connect owners. For example, if two separate strata buildings need to be painted, they could share costs by hiring the same painter to do the work at the same time.

"We have lots of other common interests as well that make the feasibility and the workability of the association," said Gardner.

To date there have been several meetings. At least 26 different strata councils have been represented at the group at some point this year.

"It’s coming together quite nicely in that sense," said Gardner.

At one meeting representatives from the Vancouver Organizing Committee address the group to make their pitch for advance contracting of rooms for the 2010 Winter Games. At that meeting there were strata chairs in attendance representing more than 2,000 condos in the resort.

The Class 1/Class 6 issue is driving the group to get more political, and the WSOA is urging owners to vote in the upcoming municipal election.

The tax issue was identified as a Whistler Council priority when the current council took office three years ago.

"You sat around waiting three years for action and didn’t get it," said Gardner. "People are bloody sick and tired of the Class 1/Class 6 issue."

There are ongoing discussions with the provincial government to resolve the issue, said John Nelson, the municipality’s general manager of corporate services.

He explained that the RMOW would like to have the issue resolved too, to ensure there is fairness and equity in the tax system and also to give the municipality a better understanding of how much it will be collecting in taxes every year.

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