Cheryl Ashlie.

Cheryl Ashlie.

MacDuff’s Call: Look at all the services we get for our tax dollars

Property tax notice has me wondering what very rural property owners are paying for

My husband and I recently went away on a vacation to our newly purchased Gulf Island cabin.

We just purchased it at the end of last year with our adult sons for a family vacation home, which all of us have dreamt about for decades. And, no, we do not have loads of money, but since it is off grid and can only be accessed by boat, few people are interested in properties such as these, which means the purchase price is considerably lower than properties on islands that are serviced by the Gulf Island ferry system.

However, this now meant that we had to plunge back into boat life, which I thought we had finished with when we sold our live-a-board sailboat and moved to Maple Ridge. The new boat is a far cry from our sailboat, though, which was a nice looking boat, as opposed to this one, which is, well, let’s just say she is a sturdy, old gal who served many good years as an aluminum crew boat and will now have to serve many more for us.

Upon returning from our dream property, which, like most affordable dream properties, needs a ton of work, we found our first property tax notice for our little peace of heaven amongst our mail pile, along with the property tax notice for our principle residence in Maple Ridge.

Nothing like crashing back to reality quickly.

Feeling like we had already dodged a bullet when the government backed off of including the Gulf Islands in their latest tax grab, the “Speculation Tax,” aimed at combating empty homes, which would have cost us another $755 this year and four times that amount next year, we still felt a little bit of a sting reading that we still had to pay just over $1,000 in taxes for a piece of property that receives no services.

However, having been on Maple Ridge council, I understand the cost of city business and recognize different services, even though they are not on our island, will still benefit us, if needed.

At least that is my hope. As far as the cost, I always like to keep an eye on our tax bills, in order to see the trend, which as far as taxes go, especially in the Lower Mainland, is usually upwards. With this being our first notice for this property, I was pleasantly surprised with the charges for most of the categories, in that they seemed to be reasonable and intrinsic to the kind of infrastructure that communities outside of the big cities rely on.

For example, the school tax is $390, and even though there is no school on the island — no kids either, as families don’t live year-round there — I still buy into the concept that kids are our future, so it makes good sense to contribute to educating them, so no argument there.

The hospital tax, which we don’t pay in the Lower Mainland, as it was forgiven in lieu of the transit tax, is $119, which, again, although we don’t have a hospital, clinic or doctor on the island, I want the nearest one, the Cowichan Valley Hospital, somewhat ready for our first roll off the roof when we try repairing it ourselves – trades people don’t like coming to remote islands. So I am more than fine with the cost.

In the category of municipal services, which would include the roads we may have to use on Vancouver Island, the cost is $471, and even though there are no roads on our island, as it only has ATV paths, which, with my family, is another reason I support the hospital tax, I know the high cost of road building from my council days, so that, too, is good value to me.

As for fire and police services, which is the number one rising cost for municipalities, our police service costs us $27, which seems like a reasonable amount of money to cover the cost of the dispatch personnel whose job it will be to tell us we are dreaming in Technicolor if we thing help will arrive on time, or at all.

As for fire, there is no fire tax, as fire service is called a “bucket” on remote islands, so we got a financial break there.

The last category, though, was one that was new to me and stood out as a potential tax grab by just the name alone – $114 for the provincial rural tax. Understanding $114 may not seem like a lot of money, especially in the grand scheme of taxation, but I wanted to know what I was getting for my rural tax, because, as I stated, we are off grid – no sewer, water, power – heck, we don’t even have a postal code, which to some service providers, such as insurers, means we don’t exist.

Therefore, I looked it up on the Ministry of Finance website and it was described as follows: “The provincial rural tax helps fund provincial services in rural areas including maintenance and snow removal for public secondary roads (does not include highways or private roads).”

Remember the ATV path I mentioned? Which, by the way, is just as likely to get municipal snow removal as the bike lane on 203rd Street, which means snow removal is never coming to our island. As a matter of fact, any rural snow removal for miles around us would never benefit us, as we travel via our boat to and from Nanaimo and walk on the ferry to and from Vancouver.

Suffice to say, though, pointing this out would be futile, as the government loves to protect its tax base, so I am sure there is a long list of “other” services that they would lay claim to, to justify their tax, so we will eat the $114 bucks and stay an extra day in the hospital when we fall off the roof, or the ATV.

As property tax notices start to land in the mailboxes, it is always a good exercise to go through the categories and see what you are being charged for and compare it to last year.

For our Maple Ridge home, the municipal tax portion went up by $80 and the other government’s went up by $59. And, like the good Canadian that I am, I will continue with the mantra that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.

And I will make sure I pay both our bills by the July 3 deadline.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and former

citizen of the year.