By: Korie Marshall

McBride Council has approved a grant-in-aid to help the Elks Hall with its tax bill, but Eugene Runtz, Exalted Ruler of the McBride branch of the Elks, says the Lodge will have to take a hard look at how to continue funding the hall.

Runtz says the Lodge has been taking “substantial losses” in running the hall over the last three years. Bills have been climbing, for a number of reasons: the property was moved to a different tax bracket three years ago, which tripled its taxes; insurance was around $700 per year before the new 9-1-1 service came in, and now it is around $4,000; and the cost of fuel is up – the bill was almost $13,000 this year, up from $7,800 the previous year.

And on top of that, the hall did not get the rentals over the winter it usually has. Runtz says the hall usually has a number of rentals over the winter, especially around Christmas, for family and company parties, and the hall only had one rental this year. Some of those rentals might be going to the new Community Hall, run by the Regional District, but Runtz doesn’t think that is the real issue.

“People are not renting like they used to – they just don’t seem to have the money.”

The Lodge has asked for tax relief from the Village as well as the Regional District of Fraser Fort George, and Runtz says they are both bending over backwards to help the Lodge, as soon as they learned the need was there. He’s hopeful the Regional District will also give a grant-in-aid to cover their portion of the hall’s $1,643 tax bill. Along with the Village’s grant, that will drop their total bill by about two-thirds.

Runtz says the Lodge has been told they could contest the property taxes being raised, or the village could introduce a tax exempt policy for non-profits, but he doesn’t think that would solve the issue, it would just move the tax burden around.

“The future will be different if things stay as they are,” says Runtz.

He says membership at the Elks is up, but he’s seen four members have to move away for work over the last year, and he’s never seen that before. The Lodge has lost $15,000 in the last two years, and they may need to look at shutting down the hall for the winter – drain the pipes and have their membership meetings somewhere else – to save on the heating bill. It is one of the few joint lodges in Canada, and the Royal Purple, which has kept its funds separate from the Elks, is planning to start contributing to the maintenance of the hall. But Runtz says that is money that will not be going to the community, to families and children, where it is intended to go.

Runtz is hoping that if the community forests can get some of Carrier’s cut, it will mean more jobs come back to McBride, which will mean more people, and more money can be spent locally, the way it used to be.

But also, Runtz thinks the Lodge needs to get in touch with people again, get some younger people involved. He says they’ve kept the rental rate on the hall down, to make it accessible, and he doesn’t think tough times like these are the time to push rates up.

“I don’t know if you’ve been in the new Community Hall or in the Elks Hall, but the Elks is a rip-roaring place to have a dance,” says Runtz.