Thursday, July 18, 2024
July 18, 2024

Plan to fund housing with tourism dollars paused

An agreement to put tourism tax dollars toward housing is on hold for the moment, as Salt Spring’s Local Community Commission (LCC) and the Southern Gulf Islands Tourism Partnership (SGITP) try to come to an agreement on how the money should be spent. 

LCC commissioner and Capital Regional District (CRD) director for Salt Spring Island Gary Holman had made a notice of motion, and that body had planned to vote Thursday, Jan. 18 to recommend conditional support for a five-year renewal of the two per cent municipal regional district tax to be allocated to the SGITP. Those conditions included allocating the online portion of the tax for affordable housing, with employee housing being “top priority”; allocating $100,000 per year to the CRD for the rural housing coordinator position; allocating $50,000 per year for a housing voucher program; and that the remainder be placed into an affordable housing reserve — added to the $200,000 that the SGITP already has allocated. 

The understanding had also been that the allocation of these resources across Salt Spring and the other Southern Gulf Islands would be “equitable” and reflect the proportion of revenue from the two electoral areas. But Salt Spring commissioners deferred the motion until their Feb. 1 meeting, tasking Holman and fellow commissioner Brian Webster to meet again with SGITP to hammer out particulars. 

“There have been discussions leading up to this,” said Holman, noting that the intended motion had represented his understanding of what SGITP was proposing. But, Holman said, while SGITP executive director Randy Cunningham indicated his discussions with accommodation providers showed support for the rural housing coordinator position, the housing voucher program and the additional allocation to the housing reserve, there was now some reluctance to fully commit the online portion of the tax — roughly half of what was close to $700,000 in 2023 — to the reserve. 

“They’re not willing to commit to the same degree to all of the online funding going to housing there,” said Holman. “They’re wanting to control the funds, so aside from the contribution to the CRD’s Rural Housing Program, all the other funds would be controlled by them — leaving open the possibility that some of the online revenue could be used for marketing.” 

That left the agreement at a “fairly significant difference of opinion” at the moment, Holman said, noting that both local government and accommodation providers have to vote to renew the five-year plan. 

“So if there’s the prospect of either local government and/or the accommodation providers saying no, we’re at a bit of an impasse right now,” said Holman.  

Southern Gulf Islands Electoral Area director Paul Brent, who attended the LCC meeting remotely, spoke in support of the SGITP generally, and said his area’s community economic sustainability committee had been “very, very pleased” with the work the group did, particularly in its efforts to shift visitor demand away from the summertime and into shoulder and winter seasons. 

“I have faith in the Tourism Partnership,” said Brent. “I worry that we could put a stick in the spokes by asking them to do more than they’re willing to do for starters, and doing that out of the gate before there’s an appropriate negotiation.” 

Brent said he had questions about the revenue proportionality between Salt Spring and the other islands, citing a lack of data to support what those numbers should be. But Webster characterized the disagreement as less of an “impasse” and more of the way such back-and-forth is meant to play out. 

“That’s part of a negotiation, and I don’t think they should be panicking, although time is going to get tight on us,” said Webster. “But we’ve been trying to have this discussion for quite a few months, so if time gets tight, that’s certainly not because the Local Community Commission didn’t get around to dealing with it.” 

Webster noted that there are some jurisdictions — including some northern Gulf Islands — where 100 per cent of the tax goes toward housing. 

“I think we need to stand up for our community, and make sure that with a renewal of the agreement that it’s down in writing that the Tourism Partnership will continue to do what they’ve been doing of late,” said Webster, “which is listening, cooperating, being flexible and thoughtful when dealing with the whole thing. That’s awesome, let’s put it down in writing to make sure it continues for five years.” 

Commissioner Gayle Baker noted the enthusiasm about the partnership she’d heard from members of the Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce, and agreed that holding off approving the five-year plan until the details were ironed out shouldn’t be construed as negative. 

“There’s definitely a sea change going on, in terms of how the Chamber is approaching this,” said Baker. “Each one of them has said that they’re really excited about the Tourism Partnership.” 

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