Kettle Valley Railway riding a rough section of track

Along with increasing maintenance costs, the popular Summerland tourist attraction is facing an increased tax bill this year.

Preparing for another trip

Preparing for another trip

The effects of a budgeting decision came back to Summerland council this week.

Both the Kettle Valley Railway and the Summerland Youth Centre Association had representatives at council’s regular July 25 meeting to ask about increased property tax bills.

Last year, faced with two new groups asking for permissive tax exemptions, council decided the best way to include them was to reduce all exemptions by nine per cent.

Permissive tax exemptions are a way for local governments to reduce the tax burden on groups that are considered to be contributing to the fabric of the community: churches, charitable organizations and others faced with property tax bills.

The KVR found themselves with a tax bill of about $4200 to deal with.

“In the last two years, it has been $1,130 dollars we paid. It’s gone up 400 per cent in one year, that was unbudgeted for,” said Kenneth Orford, general manager for the KVR.

“I have a staff of five up there that we pay, we have 30 volunteers, a board that gives their time and none of us feel like we are a part of this community.”

John Dorn, president of the Summerland Youth Centre Association, echoed Orford’s sentiment.

“When we received this tax bill, we felt really unappreciated,” said Dorn. “Just like the KVR we got a surprise tax bill this year of about $1,300. Council might as well have sent a tax bill to every child in Summerland age 8 to 18, because that is exactly what is going to happen. We are going to have to pass that cost on to the groups that use our facility.”

Orford was passionate in his address to council, pointing out that the KVR regularly attracts 30,000 people to Summerland, and this year, have increased their passenger count by more than 1,700 over last year.

Orford explained that the “draconian” tax bill was another burden on the tourist attraction, which was recently hit with bills to repair a section of track damaged by a boulder that fell on the track and is also trying to raise money for major repairs to the line.

“We are in a position where in the next three years, we need to raise a million dollars. Otherwise, there is an opportunity and a chance the KVR will not operate,” said Orford. Just routine maintenance to keep the equipment in condition is enough to deal with, he added. To put new wheels on the locomotive, so the KVR can keep operating is going to cost $180,000.

Coun. Richard Barkwill, who admitted to being confused as to what Orford was asking from council, asked if Orford thought the town as a whole should subsidize the railway.

“Aren’t we bringing in the customers to the town? Aren’t we subsidizing the businesses to the tune of $1.4 million, based on what we sell in tickets every year?” asked Orford in return.

In his speech, Dorn said that both the KVR and the youth centre brought services to the community that otherwise  the district might not be able to offer

Mayor Peter Waterman confirmed council’s support for the KVR.

“I have repeatedly said how valuable an asset the KVR is to us, don’t mistake that. We recognize how critical the KVR is,” said Waterman, noting that unlike a highway attraction, tourists wanting to visit the KVR have to drive through town.

“What we ran into this year was an unfortunate situation of our own budget limitations, where we have a certain level of exemptions that we are giving various groups,” said Waterman. “We were faced with a very difficult situation of how do we deal with the exemption amount we had without raising it.”

Waterman said council will be reviewing how they will handle the 2017 permissive tax exemptions in an upcoming workshop.

Linda Tynan, Summerland’s chief administrative officer, said the district would work with the KVR on getting infrastructure grants, while Coun. Toni Boot wanted to see cooperation and support, not only at the local and regional level, but provincial and federal as well.

“My knowledge of how civic politics works is negligible. When I asked for help this spring, that’s what I was asking, how do you navigate these waters?” said Orford. “I am in a canoe that is going up some tough water right now.”