No school tax relief in provincial budget 

Despite a long and passionate lobby from the municipal government, Whistler homeowners can expect to pay more in school taxes on their 2003 bills.

"We’re very dismayed, as we worked very hard to bring this inequity to the attention of the government and obtain a resolution on behalf of Whistler taxpayers," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly after the provincial budget was released on Tuesday.

In that budget Finance Minister Gary Collins announced residential school property taxes will increase on average by 2.5 per cent in 2003. That means that school taxes on the average B.C. home will go up about $20 this year.

In Whistler, where property values are much higher than the provincial average, that could mean a lot more.

School taxes are a function of the value of a property. In other words, property owners with more expensive property, pay more in school taxes.

Because Whistler’s property values are much higher than those in the rest of the Howe Sound School District, residents here end up paying a disproportionate amount of the school tax bill.

Last year the average single family property owner in Whistler paid $2,273 in provincial school taxes. By comparison the average in the Lower Mainland was $843. And in Squamish that school tax bill was $83 on average.

In an attempt to ease this disparity, municipal staff and residents have been actively lobbying the provincial government over the past year through a series of meetings with the finance minister and Treasury Board officials.

"The main thrust was to counter the perception of the Whistler community as wealthy and emphasize the stake that the local permanent resident homeowners have," said long-time local resident Garry Watson, who has been a large force in the lobby.

"We wanted them to recognize the systemic failure in the system because it lumps Whistler in with the rest of the Howe Sound School District."

Watson had not yet crunched the numbers, which would show how much more Whistler residents will be paying this year. But he said with the rising 2003 property assessments there could be a very big increase. Residential property assessments increased by roughly 35 per cent this year.

Exacerbating the rise in school taxes is the fact that fewer homeowners in Whistler can qualify for the Homeowners Grant. This grant provides $470 for homeowners in homes worth less than $525,000. Roughly 50 per cent of Whistler homes qualified for the HOG last year.

Watson said that number has now dipped to 25 per cent as a result of the soaring property assessments.

"The Homeowners Grant cap has been the same over the last eight years and in that time assessments have doubled," he said.

Still, even though Whistler was left out of the provincial budget, Watson isn’t giving up hope yet.

"It’s a political decision," he said.

"The government has the ability at its discretion to grant relief.

"They have the legal power. It’s just a question of the political will."

Last year the government had enough political will to grant school tax relief in Tofino.

They changed the School Act to allow for more than one tax rate per school district to deal with situations where there are dramatically different property values within the same school district, just like in the Howe Sound School District.

Tofino has grown faster than its neighbouring communities in School District 50 and the prices of its properties has been gradually on the rise. Whistler, however, despite the disparities in the property values within the Howe Sound School District, did not meet the tests to quality for relief.

Although municipal staff are disappointed with Tuesday’s budget, they will continue to lobby.

O’Reilly said: "We have already requested a meeting with the finance minister and we will ensure Whistler’s position is heard and understood."


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