Oak Bay pushes province to pay more for its properties

UVic contribution less than some residents pay in property taxes

Coun. Hazel Braithwaite

The province doesn’t pay its fair share for the University of Victoria, says Coun. Hazel Braithwaite.

She plans to petition other communities across Victoria and the province to back her Union of BC Municipalities motion set for vote during this September’s convention in Victoria.

“This came up during budget (discussion) and when we realize the line item for UVic was yet again going to be a decrease, I said we need to take this to UBCM,” Braithwaite said. “UVic is paying less than what some of our single-family homes are paying in taxes and yet they are a bigger strain on us.”

About one-third of the university property lies within Oak Bay boundaries, with the rest in Saanich. The two municipalities divide an apportioned tax rate for the university.

Braithwaite’s motion to the UBCM conference asks the UBCM to ask the province to amend the University Act to require that the university grants-in-lieu-of-taxes formula better reflect forgone municipal taxes and that rates paid by universities be in keeping with payment- in-lieu-of-taxes paid by the Government of Canada for Federal properties.

“We do want it to be on par or on level with what the federal government pays on federal properties,” Braithwaite said. “I think we’ll get a lot of support yet again at UBCM.”

The provincial pot for grants-in-lieu-of-taxes hasn’t increased in value since its inception and “our share gets smaller” as the number of public universities expands.

Coun. Tom Croft wanted a little historical perspective so sussed out information dating back more than a decade.

When payments started in 1965, three public universities – University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and UVic – shared the funds; today, 11 public universities split the money contributed to their individual municipalities.

In 2003 Oak Bay got more than $72,000; this year the district received $55,000.

“That’s almost $20,000 less than it was in 2003 … a single-family home on Beach Drive would pay a larger amount in taxes than the university,” Braithwaite said.

Croft points to the “key program features” laid out on the Government of Canada website for federal grants-in-lieu: “Payments made under the Payments in Lieu of Taxes Act are based on the principle of fairness respecting both the taxing authorities and the federal government and are equitable in comparison to those made by other property owners.”

Both councillors point to a federal land example: This year Esquimalt got about $12 million for the naval base.

“It speaks to fairness,” Croft said. “We provide the policing, fire services, infrastructure … the same as we provide to any other taxpayer. It has not kept pace with inflation or cost.”

“We’re not looking for $12 million, we just want fair compensation for the services we provide,” he added, noting the discrepancy affects the community. “We’re always behind the gun. It’s about fair taxation.”

Braithwaite said more than 40 police calls came from the university in the past year, alongside fire calls and presumed use of recreational facilities.

“The amount of money the grant the University of Victoria pays has declined by 20 per cent, yet their population serviced by the campus has risen by 15 per cent,” Braithwaite said. “Here we are, a municipality that doesn’t have a lot of businesses so we don’t have a lot of extra taxes coming in, yet we have a university that uses a lot of our resources.”

This resolution builds on two previous motions passed at UBCM to request that grants-in-lieu be equal to the amount that would be paid in municipal taxes. In 2008 and 2011 resolutions, submitted by Port Alberni and supported at UBCM, reflected a similar sentiment around provincial property tax payments. Both years, the province committed to review the pay model in response but didn’t change or expand the payment model.

“We can only hope that the third time is lucky. It’s time that the province started paying attention,” Braithwaite said. “The grants nowhere near reflect the actual costs of providing fire, police, emergency planning and infrastructure services to the university.”

The motion will come up for vote during the UBCM convention in Victoria Sept. 26 to 30. Between now and then Braithwaite plans to canvass the province, sending the motion out to municipal councils to “garner some support” ahead of the convention.

“We’re going to try and build a coalition of university towns,” said Mayor Nils Jensen. “When you compare the fairness and inequitable treatment by the federal government it’s night and day. … It’s a shock how we’re treated by the provincial government compared to the federal government.”