A quick-fix tax guide for municipalities

Contributor Martin Goguen leads MRSB’s Tax Recovery service and has been providing tax advice to Canadian municipalities for over a decade

While privately owned businesses and commercial enterprises encompass a set of tax rules and regulations that are more complicated than personal tax, GST/HST as it relates to municipalities can be even more complex.

I often field questions from municipality clients who, understandably, are confused as to which activities they should be charging HST on. Many of the supplies made by municipalities are specifically exempt from HST, but many municipalities are also engaged in commercial activities, which are not exempt, without realizing the implications of doing so.

Here is a brief guide to a few of the activities that can cause problems for municipalities when it comes to taxes:

Residential services

Services provided to residents by municipalities  are exempt only if they are not optional. Municipal service that are provided on an optional fee-for-service basis are taxable. The fees paid by a resident to the municipality to cut the grass on his property would be taxable; however, if they municipality cuts the grass of a resident because he or she failed to comply with a municipal by-law, the fees would be exempt (non-optional).

Admission to a place of amusement

The supply of admission to a fair, athletic contest, artistic presentation, etc. is taxable if any amount charged to your customer is greater than $1. For example, if you charge $2 for adults and $0.50 for children, both supplies of admission would be taxable and HST would have to be remitted on the revenue.

Recreational programs

Supplies of membership fees and services for recreational programs are taxable unless they are provided primarily to children under 14 years of age or younger, and mostly do not involve overnight supervision. Services and programs provided primarily to underprivileged individuals or individuals with a disability are also not taxable.

Real property

Most supplies of real property by a municipality, either by way of sale or lease, are taxable. Common examples include banquet facility rentals, licenses to use real property and commercial property leases.

Of course, the above activities do not cover the breadth of GST/HST questions faced by most municipalities. If you would like to read my full report with additional information regarding not-for-profit organizations, click here for a free download.

Perks of volunteering with a local not-for-profit

M&A advisor Trisha Mossey shares her insights as a professional who also volunteers with two very different organizations

For the last two years I’ve worked fulltime as an advisor with MRSB Mergers & Acquisitions. This means I spend the bulk of my time making sure our clients are successful in buying and selling businesses. The business owners and entrepreneurs I work with are engaging, savvy and often entertaining people who want to enjoy professional and financial success.

Two years ago I joined the executive of Catholic Family Services Bureau (CFSB), a wonderful not-for-profit organization that helps families and individuals in Prince Edward Island overcome obstacles through professional counseling. As Treasurer of their board, I oversee CFSB’s finances. Just six months ago, I also joined the Biz Under 40 committee, a group of young professionals who organize fun networking events for other young professionals in PEI under the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce umbrella.

Obviously, my two volunteer roles are very different; thus they offer very diverse experiences. Here are a few reasons why joining a local board or committee (or two!) might be right for you:

  1. It increases your knowledge and experience

Overseeing the finances of a not-for-profit is totally different than working on specific client files for a private company. Each cog in the NPO machine has to live up to his or her role if the organization is going to thrive, especially in today’s climate when resources are often hard to come by.

In volunteer roles you often have the opportunity to work with more experienced people who know the organization inside and out. You have to set aside the private business mindset and open the doors to a new world with different priorities and goals. It’s also a chance to get away from your desk and take part in a host of events and meetings that can put you in a new mindset that is separate from your day-to-day.

  1. It expands your networks

I’ve met a lot of great people through both CFSB and Biz Under 40. Far from attracting people from the same walk of life, meetings are filled with lawyers, business owners, accountants, teachers and social workers to name a few. Cooperate with, learn from and make friends with these people; you never know when you’ll be able to help each other out in a professional capacity.

  1. It challenges you be a better team player

For Biz Under 40 we have to come up with fun, creative networkers that will get people out and increase overall attendance numbers. For CFSB the focus is to keep the organization ticking and effectively helping those in need. Two very different causes and both involving several stakeholders. Each role challenges me to look at what works for other committee members and for the organization at large. We each must be respectful of others’ opinions and viewpoints because we have to make important decisions as a group constantly, and often quickly.

One final tip

My main piece of advice would be to find an organizations you’re passionate about, as you will be helping to guide future decisions on its behalf. A board or committee position requires time and energy, so a personal connection to the organization can keep you motivated when things get busy or challenging. It also gives you a great chance to learn more about an organization you’re interested in. Don’t forget to keep your volunteer positions in mind when applying for your next professional role, and have fun!