MacBride museum to start paying property taxes

A 60-year agreement between the MacBride Museum of Yukon History and the city of Whitehorse, in which the museum's property taxes were waived, came to an end on Monday night.

A 60-year agreement between the MacBride Museum of Yukon History and the city of Whitehorse, in which the museum’s property taxes were waived, came to an end on Monday night.

Mayor Dan Curtis’s eleventh-hour amendment seeking to exempt the museum from the city’s new grant policy wasn’t enough to sway council, as a 3-3 vote defeated it.

Keith Halliday, chair of MacBride, said he was shocked, stunned and disappointed with the outcome.

“We try to provide an awesome community museum and in return, we get a property tax exemption and other additional funds that the city generously contributes,” he said.

“We were sorry to see that end because we thought it was good for the community, for Whitehorse, for the Yukon. It’ll hurt us in terms of delivering services to the community.

“We have the stories from the gold rush but we don’t have the gold from the gold rush.”

MacBride is the only museum in Whitehorse that owns its land, while the rest are on Yukon government land.

Last November, members of council voted to change the city’s grant policy, adopting a sliding-scale formula for doling out grant money.

Non-profits with combined revenues and assets under $500,000 would pay no property tax, while those over $500,000 would be eligible for a 50 per cent break on property taxes.

Based on the new policy and financial information dating from November last year, the museum would eventually pay approximately $4,700 in property taxes annually.

A phased-in approach means that only 25 per cent of the bill is owed in the first year, 50 per cent in the second year, 75 per cent in the third year and 100 per cent in the fourth year.

Halliday said the phased-in system helps but it’s not enough.

“We’re a history museum and we think in the long-term,” he said.

“It’s a permanent change to our 60-year tax exemption and ultimately, it’ll be phased in and be a financial drain on the community museum.”

After members of the MacBride Museum raised issues with the grant policy last November, a few councillors suggested that its board work with city administration to come to a solution that would be in place for June, when taxes would be due, Halliday said.

Some of the options included tax exemptions for all museums, a special exemption for MacBride only, and the designation of museums as a special class under the Assessment and Taxation Act.

But ultimately, exempting museums would result in a loss of approximately $100,000 in revenue to the city, according to city documents, and administration’s final recommendation was that all museums, including the MacBride, be subject to the policy.

Halliday said he was surprised by the recommendation.

“We worked productively with the city for five months, so that’s why the vote was a bit of a shocker to us,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, Curtis said he brought the amendment forward because he had had a change of heart.

Back in November, he commented that the income tax collected from non-profits was important because it goes towards supporting needy organizations.

“Lobbying is good and healthy but I’d prefer if the lobby groups were more factual. The vast majority of organizations think this sliding scale is fair,” he said at the time.

“If the worst hit is $1,000 this year, then that’s not bad.”

But after speaking to citizens and tourists, Curtis said, he now understands the value and the impact the MacBride has on Whitehorse.

“The MacBride Museum is very unique, not only because of its size and location, but it’s titled on its own. I’d like to bury the hatchet on this one, I’m seeing clearer now.”

Councillors Mike Gladish, Betty Irwin and Jocelyn Curteanu disagreed, arguing the formula was fair and equitable for all museums.

Coun. Irwin said that giving in to one organization would “completely negate the whole process.”

“I don’t feel this an undue hardship on the MacBride Museum,” she said.

“If we pass this amendment and we give an exemption to this one organization, who is a squeaky wheel, I think we waste an awful lot of time and money developing this grant policy. If we do this now it’s no longer fair and equitable to all the organizations, and we open the door to more organizations coming forward and saying, ‘We’re unique, we deserve special treatment too.’”

The new policy came into effect on Jan. 1.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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