Edmonton's biggest Royal Canadian Legion branch is celebrating a potential victory after city councillors agreed Wednesday that the non-profit shouldn't have to pay what it was billed in property tax for 2020.
Kingsway Legion Branch #175 owes $35,253 plus interest and penalties on its tax bill that year — an estimated total of $48,000.
Council's executive committee gave its initial nod during Wednesday's meeting to credit the legion that amount.
Legions are normally exempt from property taxes but because the Kingsway branch has a liquor licence, it pays municipal taxes each year.
Ron Wills, past president and finance chair of the Kingsway branch, told the committee that the building was reassessed and that the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis agency lowered the taxable footprint by nearly 50 per cent.
While they used to pay the city $76,000, he estimated they should have been billed $36,000.
He said they've been trying to negotiate with the tax department for more than a year-and-a-half to set the rate straight.
Wills had the tax bill in hand while speaking to the committee.
"It says right on it that they're still charging us interest."
Taxable space reassessed
The city's tax department said the legion's taxable space was adjusted in 2021, after the AGLC said banquet halls are not licensed 100 per cent of the time.
Anton Szabo, the city's director of tax policy, said the tax assessment was lowered for 2021.
"If the same exemption would have been applied in 2020, this would have reduced the taxes owing by $35,253 as stated in council's report."
Under the provincial Municipal Government Act, council has the power to cancel, reduce, refund or defer municipal taxes and arrears.
Council as a whole must give final approval to the tax credit and that could be done as early as next week.
Wills said the legion's revenues dropped 75 per cent because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as for many months they didn't lease out space or hold events.
They kept the building open nonetheless, he said.
"As a result, we had to keep the lights on, the power on and everything else — those bills had to be paid in order to have a place for the veterans to come to seek help or support."
Aaron Paquette, councillor for Ward Dene, advocated on behalf of the legion for the tax credit.
Paquette noted the benefits of the organization, helping many members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues.
"Thank you for your service to this country," Paquette said to Wills. "It's a small percentage of people who enlist, and we just couldn't be more grateful."
The Kingsway branch has 1,277 members including 437 members who've done military service, Wills said.
The legion offers a variety of support and services.
"As a lot of veterans are getting old, they have disabilities that we address such as mobility. So we purchased scooters or walkers, so they are able to get around and do what needs to be done to live an independent life."
They also help homeless veterans, Wills noted.
"We help find them the accommodation and pay for their rent for up to three months until they are able to get themselves back on their feet."
Wills said as the legion is generating revenue again, they are able to pay the 2022 tax bill, which is about $33,000.