The issue: tax exemptions

We say: time to review the list

The creators of budgets at all levels of government had their work cut out for them well before the pandemic hit.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the public was encouraged to get out and spend like normal as a show of defiance to the attackers. 

The pandemic, on the other hand, has not only decimated government coffers, but also all but frozen the economy for months. The orders this time were to stay indoors and shut down everything but gas stations and grocery stores.

Point being that all the discussions that would have gone on about requests for tax exemptions or asks for donations are still going to take place, but the answer is going to have to be ‘No’ more often if the City of Yellowknife ever hopes to dig out.

The Yellowknife Day Care Association (YDCA), as the proprietor of a licensed 104-space daycare on 52 Street, is the largest provider of child care in the Northwest Territories.

Last week the management asked city councillors to exempt their not-for-profit organization from paying municipal taxes. The change, which split council down the middle, would require the city to find the $25,000 or so in property taxes the YDCA pays each year somewhere else, or to cut expenditures somewhere to match the loss in revenue.

Politically, with the pandemic still threatening to spill over from southern jurisdictions where it is still making its rounds, it’s a difficult time to decide to reduce even further the amount of money you’re bringing in.

But access to affordable child care improves workforce participation overall – gender balance in particular – as women are more likely to be prevented from taking a full-time job because of the prohibitive cost of paying to have the kids taken care of while they’re gone.

Yellowknife MLA Rylund Johnson lays out the benefits of universal child care in a guest column on page 15.

Maybe the question city councillors should be asking themselves has more to do with who is already exempted from paying the city taxes than whether to add a new group to the list, which sits at 27 lots owned by 23 different organizations, mostly faith-based.

Again, this has the potential to be an uncomfortable conversation, but at a time when governments at all levels are projecting debt and deficits never before seen, the value of having a merit-based evaluation of which groups should have an exemption becomes clear.

There are 16 churches or religious organizations listed in the tax bylaw as exempt, plus groups including Side Door Ministries, which helps at-risk young people; the NWT SPCA; the Yellowknife golf, shooting and ski clubs; Habitat for Humanity; the Trails End Community Association; the NWT Mine Heritage Society; and the Northlands Community Garden Society.

If it seems like it would be tough to pick winners and losers from that list, you’re probably not alone.

No amount of public money should be described as a drop in the bucket. But failing a serious paring down of the number of groups given tax breaks at the municipal level and the obvious and urgent benefit the YDCA represents as a childcare provider, city council could do worse than tasking administration with moving some things around and finding room in the budget for number 24.


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