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B.C. Ferries assessment sends chill through North Saanich

The Swartz Bay ferry terminal in North Saanich. - File
The Swartz Bay ferry terminal in North Saanich.
— image credit: File

A recent decision by the B.C. Property Assessment Appeal Board to reduce the current value of the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal in West Vancouver from $47.9 million to just 20 bucks, has coastal communities with B.C. Ferries docks — including the District of North Saanich — worried over possible lost tax revenue.

In its Oct. 29, 2012 decision, the Appeal Board agreed with B.C. Ferries' argument — made in July — that "the properties have no market value because they have no other purpose other than as a ferry terminal and there is no potential for profit under this use." The District of West Vancouver is appealing the decision, citing a potential loss of close to $1 million in past and anticipated tax revenue. B.C. Ferries had appealed their Horseshoe Bay assessment for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

"We will do everything we can to reduce the impact of this decision on our taxpayers," stated West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith in a media release. " This is another example of costs being downloaded to a municipality, and this decision sets a precedent for assessment reviews for ferry terminals in the entire province. Every city and town in B.C. that has a ferry terminal should be worried about this outrageous decision.”

The District of North Saanich has asked to be notified of any news from West Vancouver's appeal of the decision. Director of Financial Services, Theresa Flynn said Thursday that B.C. Ferries is appealing the assessed value of their terminal lands in other municipalities — including Swartz Bay in North Saanich. That land is currently valued at around $43 million. If the corporation is successful, the district, Flynn said, stands to lose around $385,000 in tax revenue for 2012 — the only year that B.C. Ferries has appealed in their case.

"We are following this closely," Flynn said, adding the district could know more about the appeal by both West Vancouver and the B.C. Assessment Authority next week during a meeting they have with the Assessment Authority on other matters.

District of North Saanich Mayor Alice Finall said she's worried about how the decision will impact her community, adding she will also watch the appeal process as it unfolds.

"This is a worrying development, in terms of the assessment authority's direction," Finall said. "This could impact two per cent or more of our annual budget. An impact of close to $400,000 in our budget is no joke."

That impact would, she continued, directly affect local taxpayers.

The District of North Saanich provides sewer and water utility services to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, as well as police and fire protection. Finall said should the land value of the terminal also be affected by an Appeal Board decision, the district would look at its options in recouping the cost of those services from B.C. Ferries.

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