By Connor Lynch
Eastern Ontario municipalities are resisting calls to adjust the farm tax ratio after farmland values spiked across the province, evoking concern among farmers that property taxes are about to go up.
MPAC’s assessments released last October revealed that farm values had climbed well beyond what many producers had expected. On average, farmland increased in value by 64 per cent over four years. Farmland value spiked 180 per cent in Lanark County.
Farmers and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) called for municipalities to lower the farm tax ratio. That’s the property tax rate for farmland, which is capped by the province at 25 per cent of the municipal rate.
The OFA sent an expert to every municipality that would listen to explain how each municipality could lower the farm tax ratio without putting extra tax pressure on residents. But despite that testimony, most counties in Eastern Ontario have chosen not to alter the farm tax ratio. Farmers Forum contacted 14 counties or single-tier municipalities in Eastern Ontario, and eight of them (Durham Region; Peterborough; Hastings; Prince Edward; Frontenac; Leeds-Grenville; Ottawa; Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry) have chosen not to alter the farm tax ratio. One county, Lennox & Addington, voted to reduce the farm tax ratio in 2017. The issue has yet to be considered in three counties: Kawartha Lakes; Renfrew; and Lanark, and two counties, Northumberland and Prescott-Russell, are currently examining it.
“We’re not having a lot of traction in getting councils to drop it, but it’s also the first time they’re seeing it,” said OFA president Keith Currie. Currie said he was more optimistic about the OFA’s chances next year, when they get another chance at convincing municipalities.
The OFA conducted a study in one township a few years back, Currie said, and concluded that, on average, for every dollar of tax collected on farmland, that farmland received 38 cents in benefits. Armed with that and the OFA doing the math for municipalities on how much they can lower the farm tax ratio without putting more taxes proportionally on residents, Currie believes the OFA has a compelling argument.
But so far it isn’t swaying municipalities. “I think there’s a few councillors that don’t want to go down that road because there’ll be backlash from residents, and frankly, municipalities are struggling for money,” Currie said.
There’s no plan to lobby the province, he said. Dealing with the problem at the local level is “our best opportunity to have an effect.”
The Beef Farmers of Ontario passed a motion at its annual general meeting last month to work with the OFA and other general farm organizations to lobby the province to reduce the farm tax ratio cap to 15 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Grain Farmers of Ontario is taking a wait-and-see approach. There’s been discussion about lobbying the province, said GFO Chair Mark Brock. “We haven’t been given much direction from our membership. Some of these situations, we feel it’s more of a thing for our general farm organizations.”
Not every farmer is in favour of a reduction of the farm tax ratio. Williamsburg-area cash crop farmer Steven Byvelds, who’s also the former mayor of South Dundas, said that cash-strapped municipalities have few options for generating revenue. “Producers have a good discount as it is. What I’d like to see is for municipalities to put that money for rural roads,” he said. Byvelds added that municipal taxes do “a lot of good. We need to make sure that municipalities are adequately funded.”