By Tom Collins
IROQUOIS — An Eastern Ontario dairy farmer is being taxed four times higher than the farm property tax rate after his yogurt processing plant was re-zoned industrial by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).
Iroquois’ Josh Biemond — whose Upper Canada Creamery opened last August — is being charged about $12,000 a year for the 8,200-sq.-ft. processing plant, and estimates he would be paying about $3,000 if the plant was zoned agricultural. It makes a huge difference to his bottom line, he said.
“Especially in my first year of business,” he said. “That’s going to put me in the red for many months. That’s a lot of money.”
According to Ontario regulations (282/98 Section 6, subsection 1) a piece of property would be classified as industrial if it is used for or in connection with “manufacturing, producing or processing anything.” It doesn’t matter what classification the property was beforehand.
“I don’t have an issue with actually being zoned industrial,” said the organic dairy farmer. “Taxes are meant to be used to pay for something. But I don’t have all of the amenities these other guys have.”
He explained that in town, industrially-zoned properties pay higher taxes because the township takes care of installing the infrastructure such as gas, water and hydro. “If they want to do that for me, then I’ll pay the taxes. No problem. But I had to put in my own well. I had to deal with my own sewage. I had to put all this infrastructure in and now pay for it twice? Does that make sense to you?”
Biemond is confident he’ll get the zoning changed as he has spoken to other farmers with processing plants and says they are zoned agricultural.
The creamery isn’t the only Ontario agricultural processing plant to be zoned industrial. Miller’s Dairy in Creemore, about 45 minutes west of Barrie, has industrial taxes of about $18,000 a year on a 6,000-sq.-ft. processing plant, instead of agricultural taxes of $2,000 to $3,000. Miller has been fighting the cost, but on the advice of his lawyer, paid $60,000 in back taxes at the end of November to avoid interest charges.
Miller is appealing the taxation amount but he has stopped trying to get the classification changed. “It’s all about the assessed value of the building,” he said. “(MPAC) won’t even talk about the classification. It’s zoned industrial and that’s it.”
Miller knows of one farm in his county that has the same type of processing facility that was designated industrial, but the assessed value is five times less than Miller’s farm. Miller’s lawyer and MPAC’s lawyer are trying to come to an agreement on what Miller should be paying before a May 19 independent arbitration hearing.