You’re barking up the wrong tree.
That’s essentially what the United Counties of Prescott and Russell told representatives from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) at its latest meeting.
Ben LeFort, senior farm policy analyst, presented council with a plan to lower tax rates for local farmers into 2020. Réjean Pommainville, local OFA rep, and a handful of other farmers from the region were there to support LeFort.
Rising farmland value
According to the presentation, the latest Municipal Property Assessment Corporation’s (MPAC) valuation in 2016 saw farmland value jump 84 per cent in Prescott-Russell, while residential property only rose nine per cent.
“That disproportionate increase is really the issue that brings us here today,” said LeFort. That increase also means farmers are paying a larger portion of the total taxes collected.
“Farmers are beginning to feel the effects now of five or six years in a row of increased tax burden and with another two more years to go at least,” he said.
Between 2017 and 2020 (the four years over which the latest MPAC assessment is phased in), the tax burden on farmers will increase from 3.7 per cent to five per cent.
It’s worth a reminder that the farm property tax rate is a quarter of the residential rate. That means if farmers were to maintain the 3.7 per cent of the tax burden, the farmland tax rate would need to be reduced until 2020.
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Residential on the hook
Mélanie Gratton, deputy treasurer for the UCPR, said if the rate was to go from 0.25 to 0.20, as suggested by LeFort and the OFA, it would result in a $20 reduction per $100,000 valuation. As the largest class, residential taxpayers would likely be on the hook to fill the gap.
That’s where mayors took issue with the OFA’s proposed plan.
“Let’s be honest, who’s going to take the bite? It’s the residential,” said Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois. “We have got to find a way where everyone’s a winner.”
Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins said, “You’re knocking at the wrong door… You gotta be in Toronto talking to MPAC and say, ‘Quit bringing our valuations up,’ not try to get the municipalities to lower their (taxes).”
LeFort acknowledged there needs to be work in the long-term done with the province but said lowering the tax ratio at the municipal level is the “only short-term tool” to resolve the problem.
Alfred-Plantagenet Mayor Fernand Dicaire and Warden François St. Amour both mentioned the growing gap between rural and urban centres, where farmland is only one of myriad issues that need to be addressed such as growing the commercial and industrial tax base.
Réjean Pommainville, who is also a farmer from Limoges, said he was satisfied with the meeting and plans to go back to council after the election later this year.
Asked why farmers shouldn’t see their portion of taxes go up, Pommainville said the agricultural sector is already paying more than its fair share for the services it actually requires. Essentially, farmers are already paying for services like recreation, which don’t benefit the agricultural sector, through their residential taxes.
“We want to work together,” said Pommainville. “Farms are businesses and we understand very well the dilemma that faces municipalities. We don’t want to put the financial burden on residents… but we want people to think about us too.”
See below for full OFA presentation: