Despite current disagreement, NCC’s committed to supporting Chelsea
In response to [The Low Down’s] March 17 editorial, “NCC payback? — How about not paying?” I wanted to offer some important context.
Since its inception, the National Capital Commission has made payments in lieu of taxes (PILT) to the municipalities in which its lands are situated as compensation for the fact that federally owned land is not subject to municipal taxation in Canada. The NCC does so willingly, knowing that its municipal hosts are important partners. However, we saw a 58 per cent overall increase in our PILT between 2017 and 2019 during a time that the annual property tax increase was around three per cent, and became particularly concerned with the assessment of 36 of our properties in the Chelsea-sector of Gatineau Park.
The most concerning aspect of these changes for the NCC was the fact that lands in Gatineau Park are being assessed as if they had development value: assessment values that assumed the NCC could flip Gatineau Park lands to a willing developer for commercial purposes. Of course, the NCC has neither the intention nor the unilateral ability under federal law or its planning framework to sell Gatineau Park lands for development. Moreover, Chelsea’s own land-use plan formally categorizes many of these parcels as being land for conservation. In other words, both federal and municipal land-use plans recognize (and value) the role of Gatineau Park as a conservation park, yet the NCC was asked to make payments as if they were normal commercial properties.
Now with advice from the Dispute Advisory Panel (DAP) in hand, the NCC is analyzing what it would mean, both in financial terms and in principle, if we agree to make PILT to all of our municipal partners on the basis that our vast public conservation holdings, including but not limited to Gatineau Park, were valued as if they were ripe for development. As well, we are asking what such a PILT assessment principle – that conservation does not represent a constraint on a property’s valuation – would mean for our federal partners, who steward vast national parks, wilderness areas and protected lands that dwarf the NCC’s holdings.
The NCC is seeking to answer these questions and determine our assessment as quickly as possible. In the meantime, the NCC is continuing to make PILT to the municipality of Chelsea; an interim payment of nearly half a million dollars was made earlier this month. The NCC has committed to making its final payment on the basis of its response to the DAP advice by July 1, 2021, the date the tax payments are due.
While we know that Gatineau Park is responsible for more than $241.5 million in annual economic impact and 4,728 jobs in the region, we also know that the park creates costs for those same municipalities. That is why we remain committed to contributing non-PILT financial support to the municipality of Chelsea. On top of, and apart from, our PILT payments, in 2018, the NCC contributed $300,000 toward bike lanes on Chemin Notch and Chemin de la Mine. We’ve provided almost $100,000 in the last two years alone for traffic studies, traffic management costs, and repair work. We recognize the importance of Meech Lake Road to the Park and its users, and have been actively working to help seek federal funds to offset its rehabilitation costs.
Despite the current disagreement, the NCC is committed to supporting Chelsea – through both ongoing financial support and PILT payments that are principle-based – while respecting its fiduciary duty to all Canadians.
Nicolas Ruszkowski is the vice-president of public, legal and corporate affairs for the NCC.