Councillors were asked to reduce the tax roll from the Masons’ Britannia Lodge for their property on 5115 60 Avenue. The request was for the town to remove $1,149 from their taxes but they would pay the school tax assessment, explained Murdoch Cameron, treasurer of the lodge.
Lodges in surrounding municipalities receive tax breaks and he asked councillors to do the same for Ponoka’s lodge. With an aging membership, many of whom are 55 years of age or older and on a fixed income, Cameron does not feel they will see any increase in their $150 membership fees anytime soon. He feels they are getting the name of Ponoka to other communities with the Shriners Ponoka Fire Truck Unit; 40 to 45 members are in the Ponoka Stampede parade. “So we’re giving you some exposure.”
Operation costs for the building are approximately $12,000 a year and the group just had to pay $10,000 to replace the cemetery mausoleum, said Cameron. He did not provide any other financials. “We’re managing to hang on at this time.”
The group also provides scholarships every other year to graduates but is mainly a fraternity rather than a service club. Mayor Larry Henkelman excused himself from the decision stating a conflict of interest as he is a member of the lodge.
Deputy mayor John Jacobs took over the meeting. He thanked the group for their work in the Ponoka but was worried agreeing to the tax forgiveness might set a precedent.
Coun. Loanna Gulka agreed and how they should proceed if other groups approached council. “I feel for you but it really sets a precedent.”
Cameron had a question to Gulka over her comment. “How can other communities do it?”
Costs keep rising for clubs and fraternities and he feels the town should assist with costs otherwise they will disappear.
Jacobs suggested budget requests for clubs should be discussed during budget deliberations. “Maybe that’s something we can discuss in the future.”
Coun. Doug Gill suggested speaking with the municipalities that are helping the lodges. “I think it would be prudent on our part to contact these communities.”
The last time the lodge received a tax reduction was in 2005, a request in 2010 was denied.
“Someone else would have to pay for the break and council didn’t want to go into deficit,” explained Jacobs.
Council is waiting to hear what other municipalities are paying before making a decision.