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Sooke accommodation tax sparks controversy

New tax geared toward rental properites
Accommodations like this treehouse-style one in East Sooke are included in a proposal for a hotel tax. (Contributed - Airbnb)

Critics of a new regional tax proposal aren’t married to the idea, who gets to vote on it, or where the revenue will be allocated.

The District of Sooke has been collaborating with Destination BC and other stakeholders for the past eight months on implementing a three per cent provincial accommodation tax that would encompass Metchosin and the region from Sooke to Port Renfrew.

According to Gail Scott, economic development officer for the District of Sooke, once the Major Events Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT) is in place, it will be charged on all fixed-roof, short-term rental properties regardless of size and revenue, although only properties with four or more rooms will be allowed to vote on the tax.

Bed and breakfast owner Mike Hicks has vowed to do his best to defeat the initiative.

“It will take 50 plus one per cent for this to pass, yet only those with four or more rooms get to vote,” he said. “It’s a huge hassle, and they (those with less than four rooms) can’t vote on this tax. How fair is that? Everyone I’ve talked to so far is against it. There’s no way I can support this for that reason alone.”

Hicks said accommodation providers with only one room whose guests book directly with them, for example, will have to collect and remit the tax to the provincial government, which he believes will be a cumbersome process for some.

ALSO READ: Sooke’s regional hotel tax proposal gains momentum

Hicks also takes issue with the fact that the money raised through the tax can be are earmarked for uses other than tourism or economic development, including affordable housing.

“Aren’t we paying enough taxes already?” asked Hicks, who served as electoral area director for Juan de Fuca for 14 years.

“Tax hikes affect our competitiveness, and our guests pay more than enough taxes already. They say we need to promote tourism in Sooke, but we don’t need it because our businesses and other organizations like Airbnb, the Chamber of Commerce, Expedia do a great job of that and we don’t need government’s help.

“I want to get away from politics, but I feel strongly about this issue,” Hicks said.

Scott said there has been a lot of questions about the tax from regional and local accommodators.

“This flurry of MRDT responses is a good thing because we do want people to ask questions, get involved and to provide feedback,” Scott said. “However, we do want to ensure that correct information is being provided to them.”

She said the only exception to the MRDT is for properties on Indigenous lands and properties that are renting long term, which is defined as around 25 days.

One of the first steps in the MRDT process will be community and industry engagement, with 4VI, formerly Tourism Vancouver Island, leading that work, Scott said.

Phase 1 will involve momentum building and scope that will include a tourism system planning meeting, one-on-one interviews, and a recommended report.

Phase 2 will include background research, a stakeholder workshop, a working group session, preparation of an up-to-date accommodation directory, a communication framework document, and a website notice, while Phase 3 will include a draft five-year strategic plan and a draft one-year tactical plan, targeted distribution of the plan, and another stakeholder information session.

The final phase will include review and approval of a final five-year strategic business plan, a one-year tactical plan, and the delivery of all required MRDT documents.

Proponents of the tax stressed that the hotel tax will not be used to support the services of a community business support service investment co-operative from Sooke to Port Renfrew, which is a completely separate project that is in the exploration stage to determine viability.

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About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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