Trent Ernst, Editor
A recent decision by the Legion to start selling food has proved to be controversial.
Jim Cullen, President, Tumbler Ridge Legion, wrote a letter to Mayor and Council to request a Temporary Commercial Use Permit to allow the Legion to operate their kitchen and sell food to the public.
On October 1, writes Cullen, the Legion opened its new kitchen for members and guests. “We also offered to the pubic the opportunity to pick or have delivered food orders meaning that non-members would not be able to enter the Legion this is a requirement on our liquor license. Our kitchen was inspected by Northern Health and was approved.”
However, says Cullen, a few days later, then-CAO Barry Elliott contacted the Legion and told them there were some issues. Elliott informed the Legion that, if they sold food to the public, they “would be in jeopardy of losing our tax exemption. Elliott also said the Legion does not have the proper Business License to sell to the public and that the property is not zoned for this sort of business.
“As for our tax exemption we get a small reduction in our property tax for the area in the basement and grounds used for recreational space and for being a non-profit organization,” says Cullen. “The issue of selling food to the public has nothing to do with this. We have a Commercial Business License and have always had one since the Legion was established in 1983 the only relevant information on that Business License is Commercial Business License and the code CDl. If the code to allow the Legion to sell food is incorrect that should be easily rectified.
Elliott says the Legion holds two separate Commercial Business Licenses, one of which permits them to offer liquor and light snack services to members and guests who are seated within the Legion premises, and the other which permits the Legion Auxiliary to cater events held on Legion premises. “I advised them that the Legion does not have a Commercial Business License that permits them to provide food products outside of their premises and particularly to the general public,” reports Elliott.
Additionally, says Elliott, the Community Charter says that “a council must not provide a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance to a business, including an exception from a tax or fee.” He says that he has spoken with BC Assessment, who say that this proposed new service will have an effect on the Legion’s permissive tax exemption. He says BC Assessment is in the process of coordinating an inspection of the Legion, and once completed, they will be better positioned to comment on the likely extent of this change.
Elliott says the kitchen facility in which the Legion intends to prepare food may not have been constructed in accordance with the commercial kitchen requirements of the BC Building Code. Building inspector Ken Klikach did an inspection says Cullen, and found that the Stove fan was not big enough, the walk way between the cupboards and a prep table were too narrow and that the front steps into the Legion do not meet code.
“The Code for the front steps is that it be 11 inches wide and seven inches high, which they are,” says Cullen. “As for the kitchen, it was passed by Northern Health for the intended use that we are using it for.”
According to Cullen, Klikach also said the Legion’s outside deck would have to torn down as it is above a BC Hydro right of way. “When the Hartford Manor was built it was not an issue,” says Cullen. “In fact the hydro box feeding Hartford Manor was purchased by the Legion and at that time we were told that if anyone else was to get power from that box the original cost would be shared, that never happened. The Legion does accept the responsibility that if Hydro had to dig under the deck that we would be our responsibility to remove it at our cost.”
As for the zoning issue, says Cullen, the Legion purchased the land in the early 1980s from the District and the zoning should have been in place at that time. “The Legion has been paying tax on the property since that time and the property was never transferred to the Legion. The assessments come to the Legion, however the property is still registered to the District which makes me wonder why the Legion is paying tax for property that we have not received.”
Elliott says that in 2013, District staff and legal counsel worked to finalize a transfer of the land to the Legion, but the final transfer of the land has not been completed at the Land Titles Office. “This final piece of the process must be completed by the Legion.
“We also realize that there are several non-profit organizations and businesses that are running under the District that do not pay tax such as the Lions Campground, Monkman Campground, Willow Hall and the Golf Course, to name a few. So I believe that the Legion has been paying its way, above and beyond any other non- profit organization in the District of Tumbler Ridge.”
The Legion is asking Council to make a Temporary Commercial Use Permit to allow the Legion to operate its kitchen and sell food to the public until such time that the District changes the zoning were the Legion is located, says Cullen.
“In closing, I would like to say that Legion has been suffering since the mine closures and operating at a loss but we still manage to give back to the community. Barry [Elliott] asked me why a non-profit should be able to sell to the public when other business has to pay tax. The answer is the Legion has every right to sell anything from nuts and bolts to pizza as any other business does. The Legion pays PST, GST, and Property Tax and has a Business License as most business do, the only difference is that we have a status of being non-profit that we received from Canada Revenue Agency and our profits go back into the community instead of the pockets of business owners or shareholders. I hope that council would give these issues your full attention and direct the District to make the necessary change to make this happen. The Legion has invested a lot of monies to make the necessary changes and have created four new positions that Tumbler Ridge really needs at this time.”
Elliott says he has never disputed the Legion’s right to sell anything it wishes. “However, my instructions to the Legion from the outset are that they need to adhere to the same licensing, zoning, construction and taxation obligations as all other independent businesses in the community.”
Additionally, says Elliott, it has become apparent that Cullen is not acting as a representative of the Legion. “I submit that it is administration’s view that the referenced Legion letter is being deliberately misrepresented to Council by Mr Cullen as expressing the concerns and request of the Legion executive, whereas it is in fact simply representing Mr Cullen’s personal concern.”