By Connor Lynch
Western Ontario counties are resisting calls to adjust the farm tax ratio, after farmland values across the province spiked and farmers now fear a similar bump in property taxes.
MPAC’s (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) 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, though that number spiked as high as 112 per cent in Oxford County.
That had farmers and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture calling for municipalities to lower the farm tax ratio. That’s the property tax rate for farmland, which is capped at 25 per cent of the municipal rate by the province.
The OFA sent an expert to every municipality that would accept one to explain how each municipality could lower the farm tax ratio without putting extra tax pressure on residents. But so far, not one of 21 counties contacted by Farmers Forum has shown any signs of reducing the tax rate ratio for farmers.
• Nine counties will not be changing the farm tax ratio (mostly set at 25 per cent). The counties are York Region, Wellington, Waterloo, Elgin, Brant, Grey, Dufferin, Hamilton, and Bruce.
• 11 counties haven’t had the issue come up at council, but eight of those counties have indicated that either staff have not recommended a change, or there have been no requests for a change. These counties include: Halton, Perth, Huron, Oxford, Middlesex, Lambton, Essex, Norfolk, Haldimand, Niagara, and Simcoe. All but Halton, Niagara and Middlesex have indicated that a change would be unlikely.
• Peel region defers setting the farm tax ratio to its three municipalities. One, Caledon, will be examining the farm tax ratio in March. Farmers Forum did not receive a response from the other two by press time, March 9.
“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 on a 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. Between that fact, 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 that the organization has a compelling argument.
But so far it isn’t swaying municipalities. “We were hoping to get a few more (to lower the ratio). 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,” added Currie.
There’s currently no plan to lobby the province, he said, but “nothing’s off the table.” Dealing with the problem at the local level is “our best opportunity to have an effect,” he said.
The BFO 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, down from 25 per cent.
Meanwhile, the GFO is taking a wait-and-see approach. There’s been discussion around potentially lobbying the province, said GFO chair Mark Brock, but nothing formal has come forward. “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. Eastern Ontario 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.”