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Port Renfrew loses out on HST rebate

May 09 2012

Port Renfrew's economic recovery is being "crippled" by artificial boundaries that exclude the rural community from an HST rebate program, says Capital Regional District director Mike Hicks.

"The whole rebirth of Port Renfrew are these recreational lots and these recreational cabins," said Hicks, director for the Juan de Fuca electoral area.

"All of a sudden, we're being singled out while Lake Cowichan and Tofino and Parksville, Kelowna, wherever - everywhere except Port Renfrew [isn't]. I find that to be discriminatory."

In its February budget, the province announced a HST rebate in the form of a grant of up to $42,500 for purchasers of recreational properties up to $850,000 in value. But the grant applies to properties outside of the Capital Regional District and the Greater Vancouver Regional District boundaries.

That puts rural communities within the CRD's boundaries - including the tiny Port Renfrew, population about 200, where construction and sale of recreational properties is leading economic growth - at a huge disadvantage, Hicks said.

"The whole rebirth, if you want to say, of Port Renfrew is the recreational lots and these recreational cabins," said Hicks, adding that 40 recreational cabins were sold last year.

Ben Mycroft, development manager for Wild Coast Cottages in Port Renfrew, called the boundary arbitrary and "horribly unfair."

The company has done "exceptionally well" with its first Wild Coast Cottages development, but "people that are looking at real estate can just look right across the border - into Lake Cowichan," Mycroft said.

"All of a sudden, they've got a fairly major price advantage over us just because of where the line arbitrarily fell."

Hicks said the solution is simple: include the CRD's three rural areas - Juan de Fuca; Saltspring Island and the Southern Gulf Islands - in the program.

Juan de Fuca New Democrat MLA John Horgan called the limitation "contrary to the spirit of the grant."

But it doesn't look like the boundary will be adjusted.

Hicks wrote to Finance Minister Kevin Falcon asking for a change, but Falcon said he couldn't help, saying that whenever boundaries are established, there are always communities that are unhappy.

The intent of the program "is to assist workers and communities in British Columbia that depend on the residential recreational development industry during the transition to the provincial sales tax," he said.

"I appreciate that whenever eligibility criteria are set, there will be those who may feel they should have been included or excluded. However, in my view, setting the geographic boundaries of the grant program to exclude the CRD and the GVRD remains the appropriate policy," Falcon wrote.

When asked by the Times Colonist about the issue, Falcon's office issued a statement essentially reiterating the comments in the letter.

"He's saying, we'll exempt you right now until we make this transition, but who knows when the transition will come and who knows if they'll lift it," Hicks said.

The Capital Regional District is on record as supporting Hicks, who has now appealed to Premier Christy Clark for help.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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