Report to precede tax relief scheme vote at North Cowichan council

“We’re proposing that the province establish legislation to allow land owners to apply for property tax relief...”

North Cowichan council won’t support a province-wide initiative to preserve valuable and sensitive natural resources on private lands through tax relief.

At least until a staff report is prepared on the subject to provide council with more information on the issue.

The decision came after a presentation from Alfred Birch, a spokesman for the Land Trust Alliance of BC, at the council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 17.

Birch said the LTABC and other land-trust partners are working on an initiative for a province-wide Conservation Tax Incentive Program to create a financial incentive among private property owners for the voluntary conservation of unique areas on their lands.

“We’re proposing that the province establish legislation to allow land owners to apply for property tax relief if they set up conservation covenants for these areas,” Birch said.

“We are seeking letters, motions or other indications of support from local governments and elected officials for the legislation to be adopted.”

Birch said there are precedents for the concept, including the successful Natural Areas Protection Tax Exemption Program in the Gulf Islands.

He said the NAPTEP has been in place for 10 years and has helped offset the cost to landowners for adopting voluntary conservation covenants.

“That program has also demonstrated that there are little or no discernible financial impacts on local governments, or non-participating landowners,” he said.

Last year, the Union of BC Municipalities also urged the province to pass enabling legislation for a CTIP, and Birch said local endorsements for a CTIP would be “very helpful” to increase its priority on the government’s agenda.

“We expect that once we have sufficient letters of support from local governments and other agencies, it could take a couple of more years more for the legislation to work out,” he said.

Coun. Joyce Behnsen said she supports the initiative and thinks council should vote to write a letter of support right away.

“There would be no significant impacts on local taxpayers and the decision on the legislation will be made by the province, not by us,” she said. “I want to move this decision along and not take up staff time writing a report [on the issue].”

But Coun. Tom Walker said having a staff report prepared before council makes a decision would be the best move.

“I think there’s a lot of wisdom in having our staff provide us with a report, and then we can deal with it in a subsequent meeting when we have more information,” he said.