Buildings owned and operated by churches have over the years been exempted from the payment of rates and taxes. However, it was pointed out at the most recent statutory meeting of the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown that the owner of a building that is being rented for such operations will be obligated to pay the necessary taxes.
This notion was highlighted by Councillor Junior Garrett who pointed to the fact that “as long as you are renting a building it is commercial and should not be exempted.”
His remarks were prompted by deliberations about a property in the city, which has been converted and now accommodates a church.
Acting Town Clerk, Yonette Pluck-Cort, emphasised the fact, as well, that property owned by churches are allowed the rates and tax exemption.
Deputy Mayor Robert Williams in expressing his views about the situation related that it is his understanding that the entity had carried out repairs without permission from the council.
He noted that the owner of the property, which is believed to be the same person who had operated the building commercially, had not sought to garner an exemption from the municipality.
Williams disclosed that the municipality has since taken the matter to the Supreme Court, adding that the owner has opted to appeal the matter.
According to the Deputy Mayor, “We had the right to take the owner to court for not asking permission to carry out repairs.”
However, Councillor Ranwell Jordan pointed to council records which stated that the owner of the property had in fact made an application to carry out repairs and was advised to go ahead. Subsequently the municipality gave a stop order intended to halt the repairs, Jordan said, noting that there has since been a request to investigate the matter.
But according to the Deputy Mayor the matter should have never reached an uncontrollable stage, as the City Engineer should have taken action from the inception.
The deliberation, however, spurred the curiosity of Councillor Kamela Devi Ross who questioned why only one entity has been singled out even as she cited another instance where the municipality had operated differently.
The Deputy Mayor had announced some time ago that several owners of city properties might be eligible for rates and taxes waiver, a concession, which will not be afforded unless applied for.
According to him, the municipality is usually unable to determine exactly how much it is owed in rates and taxes on an annual basis, thus efforts are made to budget for a reasonably anticipated amount.
This, he noted, resulted because of the Council’s utilisation of the old tax evaluation, which would prove to be inaccurate in some cases, since some places which were labelled with the ‘land only’ status now carry buildings with some even qualifying for waiver, such as churches.
And such properties in some instances, the Deputy Mayor revealed, are still listed in the Council’s records as properties from which taxes are due.
But, according to Williams, efforts are being made by the Council to ensure that property owners take full advantage of this tax exemption.
He pointed out that all organisations that fall under Section 212 of the Constitution, which states that the Council shall have power to exempt from liability to pay rates either wholly or in part in respect of the property listed in this section, will be eligible once an application is processed.
Williams further expounded that any property used for the advancement of religion, education, or social welfare, without a view to profit, will immediately qualify for the exemption.
However, this specification, according to Williams, will see some churches that are known to make handsome profits being disqualified.
He also pointed out that any property used mainly for the purpose of open-air games or open athletic sports, and is occupied by a club, society, or other organisations, which are not established or conducted with a view to profit, will be eligible.
Also, exemption will be granted to any property used exclusively for the purpose of a hospital, dispensary, or public health institution, where the Council is satisfied that liability to pay the whole of the rate will seriously prejudice its successful attainment of the objective and purposes for which it exists.
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