No more religious exemptions: Montreal is taxing churches
Churches in Montreal are becoming concerned about hosting community groups after being hit with bills for municipal taxes.
Joel Coppetiers, the Minister at the Cote des Neiges Presbyterian church, was shocked when his institution first received a municipal tax bill in early 2015.
It was "the first indication that something had changed," said Coppetiers.
Provincial law exempts churches and manses from paying municipal taxes but Coppetiers was told that if a manse is vacant for several months between ministers, it's taxable.
Following that, city officials arrived for an inspection of every room in the church and how they were used.
"The indication is there's not an exemption for the church as a whole, there's only an exemption for those areas used for public worship and things directly related to it," said Coppetiers.
As a result, many churches in Montreal that host community groups, such as food banks, or Girl Guides or Boy Scouts, are facing mounting tax bills.
Coppetiers says the city has changed how it interprets the law.
"We're there to care and serve the community and this is part of it," said Coppetiers.
Coppetiers says taxes are due even when services are suspended for renovations.
The amount owed in taxes can increase swiftly if a church closes its doors.
When Trinity Memorial Church in NDG closed earlier this year, the city started enacting taxes immediately following the last service.
As a result churches feel pressured to sell swiftly, with Trinity Memorial being sold to Stanford Properties Group within two months.
The issue of places of worship owing taxes and fighting the city's exemptions office came as a surprise to city politicians, including Councillor Peter McQueen.
"Already our churches are in danger, they're having a number of financial problems and this is a further low blow," said McQueen.
The NDG councillor said his party, Projet Montreal, will study the exemption issue, but he said Montreal's Executive Committee needs to step up.
"If we don't do something you're going to see churches closed, churches possibly torn down, heaven forbid, certainly converted away from community use," said McQueen.
Meanwhile churches across the island are praying that the city will cease surprising them with taxes they can't afford.