The following letter was sent out as a community mail-out at the three post offices in the past week. We are posting this letter on Tideline because some post office boxes do not receive community mail-outs. While the upcoming federal election is on the immediate horizon for many, the referendum vote on October 26 is of huge, local importance and the culmination of over ten years of community effort. This is about community, respect, neighbourliness, emergency services, our community halls, markets, events, sharing, and all forms of common decency that we care about on Cortes. On this Thanksgiving weekend, let us be thankful for our Cortes community. Christine
Our Community Halls
Belong to Us All...
On Saturday, October 26, Cortes Islanders will finally get the opportunity to vote on an important question: Are we willing to support our Community Halls by paying for their core operating costs with a property tax service administered by the Strathcona Regional District?
We urge you to vote YES on this referendum.
The Gorge Hall and Manson's Hall are places where we come together to make decisions that affect our island, where we learn and play, dance and perform, buy and sell what we make, and take part in many activities and services provided for islanders of every age.
Both halls have served our community for nearly 100 years. They have been maintained in various states over the decades by the devotion of islanders who have both volunteered their time and energy, and donated money and materials, to keep them usable.
Beginning in the 1970s, the boards of the Whaletown Community Club and the Southern Cortes Community Association were able to access grant funding to repair and improve both facilities. However, government and private foundation grants do not provide funds for the core expenses of operating community organizations. Fortunately, for a number of years, the B.C. Gaming Commission did. Then, three years ago, they cut that funding throughout B.C. and now only fund programs.
The unavailability of gaming grant funds for core operating expenses created a financial crisis for our halls which prompted the SCCA membership in 2017 to vote in favour of seeking a stable annual income to meet those expenses. A petition supporting a referendum on property tax support for both halls was signed by 463 islander residents and property owners and submitted to the SRD Board in October 2017. About 200 people signed a petition in opposition.
In June 2018, the SRD board approved a non-binding referendum on the issue for October 2018 in conjunction with the election of Regional District directors. The vote was 443 to 191 in favour of the SRD preparing a bylaw "to establish a service for funding community halls on Cortes Island on the condition that the bylaw would require approval of electors before it is adopted."
On June 27 this year, after holding a community meeting at Manson’s Hall on June 6, the SRD board gave third reading to a hall service bylaw and approved voting on it this fall. We feel it is important for everyone to understand what the bylaw provides for, how it will be administered by the SRD, what the limits are on taxation and what it would cost individual properties annually.
Many concerns were addressed at the June 6 meeting. You can listen to Cortes Radio’s 81-minute recording online at https://cortescurrents.ca/hall-tax-consultation-refreshing/#more-80240
The text of the bylaw states that tax service will only cover "expenses for electricity, heating, garbage collection, telephone and fax, internet service, property taxes, insurance, supplies and contract services related to operating and maintaining community facilities." Taxes would not pay for capital improvements or for the hourly wages of regular employees. The WCC and SCCA will still seek grants and donations and use revenue from rentals to cover those costs, but core funding will allow board members, staff and volunteers to concentrate on providing services instead of spending most of their time and energy struggling to keep the power on and the doors open.
The maximum annual amount for both halls would be "the greater of $80,000 or the equivalent of $0.2405 per 1,000 of the net taxable values of land and improvements in the service area." This amount was an SRD decision based on financial statements submitted by the SCCA and WCC. It will only fund about 50% of each hall’s annual expenses. The SRD Voter's Guide posted on Tideline (cortesisland.com) estimates what the following residential property values would pay annually: $50,000 = $11.92, $100,000 = $23.85, $200,000 = $47.69, $500,000 = $119.23. (These figures include a 5.25% Provincial tax collection fee.)
Over time, as we all know, our island demographic has changed and property values have increased with a greater number of retirees and vacation home owners joining the community. This is the trend throughout B.C.’s coastal and island communities. It has affected our capacity for getting things done without paying for them. A recent survey of over 25 halls in the Salish Sea region revealed that only four of them are not funded by a tax service, and two of those are right here on Cortes Island. (See https://cortescurrents.ca/cortes-is-different/
for more details.)
We believe it is time to join the rest of the communities in our region and support our halls with reliable baseline funding. We encourage you to carefully consider the facts, and the value of our halls to our whole community - and vote YES on Bylaw 341 on October 26. Let's preserve this legacy that our elders worked so hard to create, and ensure that our halls continue to serve future generations of Cortes Islanders.
—- Cortes Taxpayers for Community Halls
Hubert & Wendy Havelaar, Christine & Cec Robinson, Myrna Kerr, Bill Dougan, Rick Bockner, John & Sherry Sprungman, Rex Weyler, Julian Ayers, De Clarke, Jon Knowles, Sue & Andy Ellingsen, Ashley Zarbatany, Roy Hales, Kristen Scholfield-Sweet
For information on how and where to vote, and who is eligible to vote, see the SRD web site:https://srd.ca/about/srd-electoral-areas/electoral-area-b/2019-assent-voting/
Please bring proof of identity and residence or property ownership in Area B when you go to the polls!