By Craig Narraway – Commodore 2002 – 2003
This all started in 1998 with a call from Brian Johnston, then Commodore at the Pigeon Lake Yacht Club. He relayed, that he had heard on the news, the Govt. of Alberta was passing an act that would help to make small sporting, non- profit clubs more viable, by exempting their property taxes if they met certain conditions.
With this in mind I contacted City of Calgary tax advisors and municipal tax advisors in Edmonton regarding our status and applicability.
I received copies of the Municipal Government Act (MGA 362), and the Community Organization 1998 Property Tax Exemption Regulation (COPTER) and forwarded them to our Sec/Treasure Larry Heald, who was a Lawyer. Asked for his take on our applicability, he concluded that on several points that the CYC might not qualify. Undaunted, I continued the process and requested an application from the Town of Chestermere. The Town Manager, Frank Kosa, advised as the Town didn’t have a provision for such an application, just to get one from the City of Calgary and they would accept that. Seemed simple enough to me, get the application, fill it out, submit it, and get the tax-exempt status. How easy would that be. Thus our first application was filed Apr 29, 1998.
We again filed for exemption to the Town April 29, 1999.
Again, no reason given, but they may have thought the membership fees were too high and that the CYC did not provide benefit to the community as a whole. Then, the majority of members were from the Calgary area. At this time Doug Dixon, one of our Directors was also assisting in the pursuit. George McKimm, a tax advisor, was hired to help with our application and subsequent appeal on a contingency basis. For this, if successful, he would receive a percentage of our first year savings. Seemed fair enough.
Through this process we learned that several of the lots (3 of 5) had overlapping buildings, and thus the overlapped lots could be construed to be valued as a single parcel.
The application and appeal by George McKimm went unresolved and he was released.
We again applied and appeared in front of the Town Council, May 1, 2000.
Nothing came of this application and we started considering a different tax advisor.
November 22, 2002 another application under the COPTER regulation was again submitted.
Jan 6, 2003 we appeared at the Town Council meeting where we again requested property tax exemption from the November application.
The Council felt that the age of usage of the Club was not young enough, that it was really mostly just Calgarians using the Club thus not benefitting the Chestermere Community, and again that the membership fees were too high.
On January 31, I spoke with Ed Murchowski, the Chestermere Tax Assessor regarding the strategy of 2000, where overlapped lots could be considered a one parcel. He agreed and reduced our property value by 257,000 (1/4). As I recall, that was about 5,000/yr in savings. Seemed like a big win, but not there yet.
April 7, we appeared again at the Town Council meeting to plead/appeal our case. The result – advised that exemption would be taken into consideration at a later date. More delays!
December 1, again appeared at the Town Council meeting. Our request was tabled where they cited the wrong section of the act for not approving it, and advised that they would have to bring it in front of the Town solicitor.
December 15 Town Council meeting, CYC request for 2002 tax exemption DENIED!
2004, it was a very good year. In a letter dated Jan 6, 2004 from Sylvia Manning, the Town Administrative Officer, the Town cited all our previous applications and subsequent denials. We were advised as such, that our application for the 2003 tax year and for 2004 was also, DENIED!
Feeling frustrated by this unending head butting process, I skipped a step, and on Feb 6th, applied directly to the Municipal Government Board for an Assessment Appeal. This was the step that really started the ball rolling. By Feb 11, the MGB sent out a Disclosure of Evidence to the CYC and the Town with a response time of 5 weeks. During this period I sourced an ex-staffer from the City of Calgary tax assessment department, Alanna Brown, to help with our appeal. She was hired on a contingency basis, dug her heels in and got right behind us. The result of this appeal was MGB Board Order 100/04 which stated in part, “one of the central purposes of administrative law is to ensure the delegates of government exercise their authority fairly, correctly and procedurally”. As there had been no decision of an ARB, the Town was directed to form an Appeal Review Board, and hear our appeal. Thus our appeal was submitted to Chestermere Dec 21. This would be heard Jan 17, 2005. Finally starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel!
This time was different though the ARB passed a motion unanimously, to offer the Club a 20% discount on the Municipal only portion of the tax bill. This offer Alanna and I quickly rejected. I think they were starting to feel that we did in fact qualify but not entirely. The Town’s legal consultant then reviewed the motion passed at the ARB hearing and challenged its legitimacy. Therefore, yet another ARB hearing would be required to resolve a valid decision regarding the CYC. On around Apr 8th we received again, DENIED!
With this denial they gave two written reasons for such.
Now we had the ammunition to again apply to the MGB for an appeal of the Town’s ARB decision, and this was granted. The hearing took place on June 28th in downtown Calgary.
Alanna and I appeared before the MGB and had a very good presentation, using the same arguments we had been peddling since 1998. The Town’s Director of Finance, John Morrison, showed up late for the hearing almost as if it were no big deal. The MGB found his behavior (lateness) to be unacceptable and the Town was fined costs for that misfortune.
On Sept 13, BOARD ORDER: MGB 094/05 was signed, stating in part, “The appeal in respect to the exemption is allowed…It is so ordered.” Finally, we had it! Tax exemption on all the property except the Licensed Premises, as we had not included that in our pursuit. This part we would deal with at a later date. Subsequently and more quietly, this area was incorporated into the exemption.
To qualify for tax exemption under the Municipal Government Act Section 362 (1) (n) (ii), and the Community Organization Property Tax Exemption Regulation AR 281/98, an applicant must pass 9 conclusive tests. We did, and I was always confident we did. What continued to drive me all along was a paragraph I had researched early on, in a City of Calgary Tax Bulletin to their assessors regarding the handling of the 1998 COPTER Tax Exemption Regulation. This was the paragraph.
“While the Regulation addresses exemptions from taxation for properties held by non-profit organizations, the granting of the exemptions are not at the discretion of Council. Simply put, if an organization or property owner makes application for an exemption from taxation by the required date, and where all the Regulations criteria and qualifications are met, the property is statutorily exempt from taxation by operation of law, and not through the exercise of any discretionary powers of Council.”
This process took seven and a half years to fruition, eight denials, and saw me through three other Commodores. I’m thankful for all their support, and was proud to have accomplished this for the CYC.