In a complete twist of events and much debate Prince Edward County has voted against shifting a tax burden from local farmers onto residential ratepayers.
However, Mayor Robert Quaiff said more work needs to be done and he will continue to push the province to consider offering tax subsidies especially for young farmers because ‘there has been an unfair assessment made by Municipal Property Assessment Corporation to increase farmers’ property taxes that may not be sustainable for them financially.’
At Thursday’s meeting, the committee of the whole unanimously carried a motion that would see a reduction in the farm tax ratio to 20% in 2017 and 20% in 2018 from the current 25%. This tax ratio reduction plan called for a 0.4% increase to be shifted onto residential ratepayers. At the meeting agriculture advisory committee chair and Prince Edward Federation Agriculture president John Thompson said the recent tax notices included an increase of 70% in the taxable assessment on Ontario farmland. He said the average County land price went up 110%.
The plan garnered much attention as most councillors stated Tuesday their inboxes were full of messages or phones had been ringing off the hook from constituents concerned about their taxes increasing. In a recorded vote of 9-7 council turned down the plan. Councillors in agreement of the farmers’ reduction: David Harrison, Treat Hull, Janice Maynard, Brad Nieman, Dianne O’Brien, Roy Pennell and Jamie Forrester. Councillors opposed to the plan: Kevin Gale, Steve Graham, Bill Roberts, Barry Turpin, Jim Dunlop, Lenny Epstein, Steve Ferguson, Gordon Fox and Mayor Robert Quaiff.
Several local farmers including Thompson addressed council before the vote including Connor Sweet, a young farmer from Sophiasburgh who said his taxes will increase 80%.
7th generation dairy farmer Don Williams said his biggest concerns are farmers’ margins are getting very tight and commodity prices are not coming up to meet that.
Councillor Kevin Gale voiced his concern with how this matter appeared to have divided County residents this week.
He said in his opinion this issue is between the OFA, the farmers they represent, the provincial government and MPAC.
“To consider redistributing taxes of any properties because of increasing land values to other taxpayers is simply the wrong approach,” expressed Gale.
He said the ‘root of this evil’ began in 1998 when the province downloaded the responsibility to municipalities by eliminating farm tax rebates system and mandating lower municipal tax rates for farmland.
“This was wrong and I believe the municipality should rally the Association of Municipalities to upload this responsibility back to the province,” he said.
The Sophiasburgh ward councillor pointed to a similar issue several years ago when MPAC began the ‘overhaul’ of the provincial assessment system and waterfront property owners were ‘hit hard.’
“When those property owners came before council to protest they were politely told that this is an MPAC issue and they should appeal their assessment. There were no shift in tax rates.”
Then he mentioned how two years ago rural ratepayers were asked to share in a portion of the water and wastewater costs and debts to assist urban property tax payers.
“I was inundated with residents including many farmers that this better not happen. Council decided that the redistribution of this to rural taxpayers was not the appropriate action,” explained Gale.
Councillor Jamie Forrester who voted in support of assisting local farmers said he weighed all the pros and cons and ‘it’s the right thing to do’.
“Farming is one of our top pillars and we need to support them,” he said. “Shifting the tax burden seems to be a real problem for us. We have done this time and time again. We helped the building community with a 50% reduction in development fees to make it more affordable… big builders asked us for it. That was paid for through tax stabilization fund, that the tax base pays for. We transfer burden all the time to the general tax base.”
Moving forward, Mayor Quaiff encouraged farmers to appeal their assessments. He said has arranged talks with Finance Minister Charles Sousa, Minister of Agriculture Jeff Leal and President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture Keith Currie at ROMA on Saturday and Tuesday to discuss this issue.
Thompson told Quinte News in an interview he is disappointed with council’s decision, adding the agriculture advisory committee will begin preparing plans for the 2018 budget year.