Courtenay council has approved a non-binding public opinion question about tax dollars and homelessness, to be asked at the Nov. 15 municipal elections.
The vote — which will only be conducted if at least two Valley municipalities agree to participate — is intended to gauge the level of public support about annual property tax contributions to help reduce homelessness in the Comox Valley. It does not provide authority to tax homeowners.
The regional district board has approved three options in the following question: How much annual property tax would you be willing to pay to reduce homelessness?
• up to $5 per year (for a home assessed at $300,000)
• up to $10 per year (for a home assessed at $300,000)
Though Monday’s vote was unanimous, some members of Courtenay council expressed reluctance about the question.
“I’m a little leery about this,” said Mayor Larry Jangula, noting public concerns about district funds not being used to address homeless issues.
Coun. Ronna-Rae Leonard suggests the question is “basically a market survey,” though she realizes Courtenay stands to benefit the most.
“We have the most visible problem,” she said in reference to homelessness.
Coun. Bill Anglin, who sits on the CVRD board, said feedback to be garnered at election time concerns public willingness. How the money is used is a subsequent discussion.
“That’s a pretty easy question to ask,” he said.
Coun. Jon Ambler, who also represents Courtenay on the district board, notes council has no legal mandate to tackle the issue of homelessness, which is the responsibility of senior governments. However, if the public is interested in spending money, then a service can be created.
“This is a chance for voters to tell us in a non-binding way,” he said.
Leonard noted the importance of forming partnerships if council hopes to see funding dollars.
Estimates of individuals in the Valley who are homeless or at risk of homelessness range from several hundred to over 2,000. Studies indicate there are shortages of every type of housing that would help deal with the issue.
Property taxes could help fund existing programs and/or create a new method of assistance or prevention. Methods of reducing homelessness include affordable housing, temporary shelter, food, mobile medical care and family mediation.