The non-profit behind Salt Spring’s longest-running childcare organization has regained tax exemption status an appeals board said was wrongfully taken away. It’s a victory that took countless volunteer hours — and the intervention of multiple elected officials — to secure.
The non-profit Gulf Islands Early Learning Society (GIELS) was spared what might have been thousands of dollars in property taxes after provincial property assessors reversed an earlier demand that they justify not only their charity status but also their community value.
That re-examination of the society — whose services have been offered on Salt Spring for more than four decades — was prompted by legislative changes in 2021, according to GIELS board chair Jennifer Emekoba, who found herself spearheading an effort to sort out a “strange, stressful mess.”
“Suddenly, all these non-profits holding property had to be re-evaluated,” said Emekoba. “It seems oppositional to where it felt like the province, even the entire country, was headed in regard to lifting up the sector.”
GIELS had seemingly run afoul of B.C.’s Assessment Authority, whose personnel had determined that under the Taxation (Rural Area) Act (TRAA), neither the society’s daycare facility — a converted 122-year-old residence on Drake Road, operating as the Salt Spring Early Learning Centre — nor its adjoining vacant lot used as a play yard was now exempt from taxation.
The new tax bill would’ve added approximately $5,000 each year to the society’s expenses, according to Emekoba.
“And sure, it’s a small amount in the grand scheme of things,” she said. “But it’s substantial for us, when the cost of goods and pretty much everything is increasing.”
It turned out more than a few phone calls were required to sort out the 40-year-old non-profit society’s status. GIELS even lost their first stage of appeal, according to Emekoba, prompting them to reach out to community leaders for help.
Those representatives took little convincing, she said; letters of support came from Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen, Salt Spring’s Capital Regional District director Gary Holman, and the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee via chair Tim Peterson, joining the testimonies of several parents of children who attended in extolling GIELS’ importance to the community.
The campaign finally bore fruit on Tuesday, Oct. 24 as an appeals panel issued its ruling. It held that the society was unfairly caught up in a narrow interpretation of the act, and according to B.C. Property Assessment Appeals Board panel chair Howard Kushner, the Assessment Authority had erred — having essentially revoked GIELS’ exempt status because the property did not “provide a demonstrable benefit to ALL members of the community.”
“But that is not the test,” wrote Kushner. “Rather the question to be asked in this case is whether there is a general public good that is being met by filling a need in the community. It is not necessary that every member of the community directly benefit by the use of the facility.”
In this case, wrote Kushner, the evidence pointed to a larger, more general economic and social benefit almost unavoidably; the childcare centre is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. five days a week, clearly of benefit to the parents and guardians working as “teachers, nurses, doctors, hydro and ferry workers” — and also to all those in the broader community who rely on their services.
The appeal process also had the happy effect of bringing GIELS’ property valuation for the facility parcel down, “closer to reality,” according to Emekoba, although the society must continue to pay taxes on the play yard parcel for now.
“I ran out of steam,” laughed Emekoba. “So maybe next year.”
Regardless of the “difficult ride,” Emekoba encourages everyone to examine their property tax notices carefully.
“Take a close look,” she said, “and do your best to weather the storm if you appeal.”
For more information about the Salt Spring Early Learning Centre, or to donate, visit saltspringearlylearning.ca.