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Squamish's Quest University seeks to have its property tax exemption reinstated

The school is lobbying the province for this break; the District of Squamish is supporting the effort.

 The District of Squamish is supporting Quest University's efforts to regain its breaks on property taxes.

 On Oct. 5, the school's president George Iwama and VP academic Jeff Warren appeared before council to ask for a letter of support in its efforts to lobby the province for change to regulations that govern Quest.  

"What we are petitioning to do is make a two-word change to the Sea to Sky University Act that says that land owned or leased by the university is exempt from [property] taxation," Warren said.

 The university is urging the provincial government to reapply tax breaks initially given to the school as part of the Sea to Sky University Act.  

Under the act, the school doesn't have to pay property taxes on facilities that it owns and uses for educational purposes.

 However, in a bid to rid itself from millions of dollars of debt, the school underwent a financial restructuring process in 2020.

Quest sold its land to Primacorp Ventures and is now leasing back the land from that company.

 As a result,  the school is no longer given a property tax exemption because it no longer owns its property.  

Quest representatives will ask the provincial government to change the Sea to Sky Act to enable the tax break to continue so long as the school leases its property for educational purposes.

 Warren said that this is a reasonable request, as other universities already enjoy that benefit.

"In the past, we've not paid property tax because we've owned our land," he said. "Public universities, say the universities that are under The University Act or other private, not-for-profit degree-granting universities, have a tax exemption provision that's a little bit wider, that applies to all land use for educational purposes, whether it's owned or whether it's leased."  

Ultimately, council unanimously agreed to write a letter in support of Quest.

 However, elected officials were careful to emphasize that they wanted this tax exemption to be extended to the school only for non-profit educational purposes.  

"It'd be important to ensure that any letter that comes from us emphasizes the importance of it being a not-for-profit university," Coun. Chris Pettingill said.

 Mayor Karen Elliott said she'd be happy to include that as part of the letter, because she believed that was the aim of Quest University.