Bible Baptist Church tax exemption bylaw on hold

Bearing Precious Seed
The paperwork was ready Monday, however members of council were hesitant to seal the deal.

The desire by two councillors for further information on a tax-exemption request for church-owned property at 320 Highbury Ave. led to temporarily shelving a ready-to-endorse bylaw.

Councillors Joan Rymal and Linda Stevenson sought input from city staff on possible repercussions from the pending bylaw to waive the municipal property tax at Bearing Precious Seed, where printed material produced for Bible Baptist Church is assembled for mailout to households across Canada.

Mayor Heather Jackson backed both councillors, noting she “supported further dialogue.”

A motion to postpone proceeding with the bylaw was approved by a narrow 4-3 margin with councillors Jeff Kohler, Mark Burgess and Gary Clarke opposed to further delay.

Coun. Steve Wookey was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Rymal told the Times-Journal on Tuesday, “I am just pleased we can at least get the input from staff. I think it’s a bit dangerous of council to go ahead and make a decision without getting all the input from staff because we’re not the experts.”

Rymal added she has heard feedback from some ratepayers on the request from Bible Baptist Church.

“I’ve heard concerns we are setting a precedent and we’re going to be having all sorts of organizations . . . looking for the same tax relief.”

Stevenson, meantime, had asked for a staff report last week following a deputation to council by Pastor Al Stone of Bible Baptist Church.

“I didn’t have a sense of urgency. Knowing the process, by asking the question that I asked for staff to comment on it, I knew it wouldn’t come to a vote. So I didn’t have a sense of urgency last week. I knew the process would unfold with it coming back to us.

“It is a carry-over from the former council and I know that some decisions have been made. Joan (Rymal) had delved into a couple of questions that I felt were very legitimate and needed to be followed up on as well.”

The exemption request from Stone — which will save Bible Baptist Church about $6,200 annually in taxes — was made possible through a private bill sponsored by Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek.

“To be honest we thought we were going to go through last night,” admitted Stone in an interview Tuesday. “But I understand wanting to get the facts. But we think we’ve offered every opportunity for that.”

A staff report and the opportunity to re-visit the bylaw will likely be on the council agenda April 7.

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