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North Saanich, Nanaimo oppose B.C. Ferries' bid to slash taxes at mainland terminal

Nov 22 2012

North Saanich and Nanaimo plan to oppose B.C. Ferries' bid to have property taxes on its Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver slashed to nearly nothing.

The District of West Vancouver filed notice last week it is taking the arms-length board that hears appeals of property tax assessments to B.C. Supreme Court, after the board lowered the value of the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal from $47 million to only $20.

Legal counsel for Nanaimo and North Saanich will apply to the court to take part in the hearing. The two municipalities plan to share legal resources and costs on the court challenge.

"Council believes that it is important that every property bear its fair share of the cost of the services that are provided by local government," said Nanaimo Mayor John Rut-tan in a statement. North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall said having the municipalities work together "should improve the possibility of a fair outcome."

The West Vancouver property tax adjustment occurred in October, after B.C. Ferries asked the appeal board to take a look at the terminal's value.

The board determined that the ferry terminals are deemed to be single-purpose and that B.C. Ferry Services is a money-losing operation sustained by government subsidies.

If upheld, the decision means West Vancouver would have to refund more than $750,000 to B.C. Ferries for the taxation years of 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Even more worrying to communities with B.C. Ferries terminals is the precedent set by the decision.

This year, Nanaimo collected $660,000 in revenue from B.C. Ferries on property taxes from terminals at Departure Bay, Duke Point and the downtown terminal, which services Gabriola Island.

Every $800,000 loss to the municipal budget amounts to a one per cent tax increase, Ruttan said.

North Saanich was paid $395,000 in tax revenue from B.C. Ferries for the Swartz Bay property.

B.C. Ferries has already launched appeals on terminals in other communities, including Swartz Bay. Those appeals are on pause until the court rules on the Horseshoe Bay decision.

Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said Wednesday that it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter while it is before the courts.

Such appeals on property taxes are not uncommon for B.C. Ferries. In the 2005 taxation year, B.C. Ferries succeeded in having the assessed value of terminals in the capital region reduced significantly:

? Brentwood Bay terminal was reduced from $2.78 million to $1.37 million.

? Swartz Bay terminal was slashed from $44 million to $21.7 million.

? Terminals on Saltspring Island and the Gulf Islands were also cut by more than half the original amount.

In 2007, B.C. Ferry Services appealed the Swartz Bay terminal's $36.9-million assessment, but the appeal was later withdrawn.

In 2010, B.C. Ferries appealed an assessment of $26.5 million of the Departure Bay terminal. That appeal was also withdrawn.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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