The Museum of Northern B.C. is once again exempt from paying taxes to the City of Prince Rupert following an impassioned plea for more support from museum directors.
While the museum portion of the building has always been exempt from taxes, the city did apply taxes to portions of the building that are rented out to generate revenue as part of a three-year permissive tax exemption bylaw passed last year. The portion to be paid to the city is approximately $5,500, but when fees and levies to other government bodies are considered the total bill is approximately $8,000.
“Right now we are not able to make ends meet. This would go a long way to allowing us to do that and ensure there is a roof over the head of the museum … paying $8,000 on the rental strata is making it impossible for the museum to make ends meet,” said museum co-manager Robin Weber.
“If you are not going to cover this, you at least have to increase the operating grant because this is not working … if you value the museum, you have to put more money into it because this is not sustainable,” added treasurer Wes Baker.
The rental properties were formerly tax exempt, but that was changed when a business complained it created an unfair competitive advantage for the museum as a landlord. Mayor Jack Mussallem again raised that concern, with Weber countering that the money generated through rent is not profiting the museum but is helping cover operational costs.
Before deciding how to proceed with the request, council was informed the museum charges $6 admission, $15 for an annual pass and $20 for a family pass. That, said Councillor Anna Ashley, could be part of the current financial problem.
“I honestly believe you could make the entry fee — because I see what is charged at the museum on Haida Gwaii and other world class museums — that you could charge a $25 entry fee and $50 for a membership … it may be that we are undervaluing the resource that we have here,” she said, though Weber said that is not the case.
“We have turned away a significant number of people because they would not pay the $6 to enter … I think we are where the market can bear right now,” he said.
Councillor Joy Thorkelson said she understood the reasoning for the museum’s request, but that they weren’t the only group feeling the pinch of the city’s economic reality.
“The city is not going to be able to solve the problems of everybody, whether it is the library, the museum, the civic centre or others. And the civic centre is our full responsibility, the museum is not … we have to find some more ways of raining money because we can’t do it all,” she said.
In the end, council voted to change the bylaw that would have charged the museum 20 per cent of eligible taxes in 2014 and 2015 to make them tax exempt because of the saving that would be realized by not having to pay school, regional district, hospital district and other taxes under the exemption.
However, to ensure no revenue is lost from city coffers, council agreed to reduce the museum’s community grant by 2014 by that same $5,500. That reduction would also not cover any across-the-board reductions to community grant recipients in the coming year.
Prince Rupert Mayor Jack Mussallem voted in opposition to changing the three-year bylaw because of the precedent it would set.