After an impassioned plea from the Oyama Legion, Lake Country councilors went against a staff recommendation and have granted the Legion a full tax exemption for the next five years.
The legion had received a 50 per cent exemption last year but appeared at the Lake County council meeting Sept. 16 to ask for the full exemption, a move that would save the Legion close to $1,500 dollars a year.
Staff had recommended only the 50 per cent savings due to the fact the Legion operates a pub. But Legion house and bar manager Rob Nairne said the pub serves about 10 people per day with profits allowing the Legion to continue to work on their charitable donations.
“There seems to be a view that the Legion is a bunch of old folks sitting around drinking too much,”: said an emotional Nairne. “While we may have a veteran imbibe too much the odd time, we get him home safe because that’s what we do. We have taken an oath to serve our veterans and there is a huge need for services and assistance.”
Housed in the Oyama Community Hall, membership in the Oyama Legion continues to be on the decline. This year membership is down 23 per cent, from 230 members in 2013 to 177 in 2014. One of the issues raised by staff was the Legion is a pub and could be in competition with other drinking establishments that do not receive tax exempt status.
Nairne said the pub acts as a gathering space where Legion members meet, hold charity meat draws and work on plans for Remembrance Day.
“Membership has dropped significantly,” he said. “But we have a dedicated group. Our finances are fragile and a complete tax exemption would be a further $1,500 in the coffers.”
Nairne outlined the organizations charity work, writing to council that the organization donates all of the proceeds from Saturday meat draws and gaming monies generated through lottery and pull tab sales to local charities and community organizations. He said the group donated a total of $15,300 to several organizations last year including the Lake Country Food Assistance Society, Lake Country Big Band, Okanagan Humane Society, North Okanagan Pipe and Drum, Cancer Society KGH, George Elliot volleyball team, LC Seniors Bus Society, LC Health Planning Society, LC Medical Equipment Loan Society, LC Girl Guides, LC Child ID, and five different Military Cadet and Auxiliary Corps. Additionally the Legion raised in excess of $10,000 during its 2013 poppy campaign, all of which must be spent locally on veterans services according to Legion bylaws.
Lake Country council voted in favour of the tax exemption with councilors Penny Gambell and Barbara Leamont opposed.