Coldstream clarifies process

Groups wanting a property tax exemption in Coldstream must demonstrate how their membership is selected.

A dispute between two organizations has Coldstream clarifying who it will assist.

Council gave three readings Tuesday to a bylaw that would require non-profit groups wanting a property tax exemption to demonstrate how their membership is selected.

“We want to make sure we’re not giving a tax exemption to a closed group that’s not part of the community,” said Coun. Pat Cochrane.

The issue of membership arose because of an ongoing dispute between the Coldstream Women’s Institute and the organizers of the Winter Farmers Market.

The Women’s Institute decided earlier this year not to rent the Kalamalka Road hall to the market because of scheduling conflicts and concerns such as traffic safety.

That situation was unpopular with market organizers.

“We had some letters saying the Women’s Institute did not allow some people to join,” said Mayor Jim Garlick.

As a result, the district decided to link tax exemption status to groups having a formal process for selecting members.

But while the district wants to see a process, Garlick insists the municipality is not dictating how members are selected or who becomes members.

Garlick admits the district has been caught in the dispute between the market and the WI and it has taken up considerable staff and council resources.

“We have more pressing issues to focus on.”

Part of the discussion over the bylaw was so sensitive Tuesday, it was held in-camera because of potential legal implications.

In a report to council, chief administrative officer Trevor Seibel says he reviewed how people become members of the Women’s Institute.

Prospective members send a letter to the WI requesting membership along with the required fee. The letter must be supported by two existing members and then the general membership decides if the individual is accepted into the group.

“The (municipal) policy does not address the issue of whether a membership is accepted or not, only that the membership potential is open to the community,” said Seibel.

Council must still give final adoption to the tax exemption bylaw which includes a 100 per cent property tax exemption for the Women’s Institute in 2014.