Farm group pushes coun­ties for tax re­lief

The Observer (Sarnia) - - NEWS - JONATHAN JUHA

On­tario’s largest farm group wants a Lon­don-area county to re­duce the share of the tax bur­den its farm­ers pay, ar­gu­ing the soar­ing value of farm­land is cre­at­ing an un­fair tax hit for pro­duc­ers.

And the pitch by the On­tario Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture (OFA) isn’t be­ing made to Mid­dle­sex County alone but to coun­ties across South­west­ern On­tario’s farm belt.

The OFA is ap­peal­ing to Mid­dle­sex to lower the tax ra­tio ap­plied to farm­land to 0.223 per cent from its cur­rent 0.25 per cent.

“Some farm­ers are see­ing an­nual in­creases be­tween 12 and 15 per cent in their prop­erty tax bills . . . and that’s be­cause the as­sess­ment of farm­land, rel­a­tive to res­i­den­tial (prop­er­ties), is way out of whack,” said Ben Le Fort, a se­nior farm pol­icy an­a­lyst with the OFA, which will speak to coun­cil next week.

Ac­cord­ing to Farm Credit Canada, the value of farm­land in On­tario has gone up each year since 2008.

In 2017, farm­land value went up in South­west­ern On­tario by 4.2 per cent, with some acres of land go­ing for as much as $18,400.

OFA will also lobb for sim­i­lar re­duc­tions to the ra­tio in El­gin, Nor­folk and Huron coun­ties.

The group has con­vinced Ox­ford, Lambton and Brant coun­ties and Chatham-Kent to lower their ra­tios. Perth County said no.

Le Fort said the av­er­age in­crease in tax­able as­sess­ment for farm­lands in Mid­dle­sex has gone up 10 times more than the av­er­age in­crease for res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties.

This has led to taxes from farm prop­er­ties cov­er­ing a grow­ing por­tion of the county’s tax rev­enue.

So ba­si­cally our re­quest is to main­tain the 2018 level of taxes and not set a new one in 2019,” Le Fort said.

And though this is an is­sue af­fect­ing farm­ing-heavy coun­ties, Le Fort said the sit­u­a­tion in Mid­dle­sex County is more se­vere than in most ju­ris­dic­tions.

One county politi­cian, how­ever, doesn’t think that low­er­ing the ra­tio is that sim­ple.

Strathroy-Caradoc Mayor Joanne Van­der­hey­den, who sits in Mid­dle­sex County coun­cil, said chang­ing the ra­tio would mean other prop­erty own­ers would feel the bur­den of the de­ci­sion.

“I will lis­ten with an open mind, but my fear al­ways is that when you change the tax ra­tio for one cat­e­gory it has to be eaten up by some­one else,” she said. “If we shifted it to some­one, where do we shift it? That to me is a big prob­lem.”

She also pointed out that while some farm­ers may be hurt­ing from the in­crease in prop­erty value, those who are sell­ing their land are ben­e­fit­ing from that same jump.

“The mar­ket is set­ting these prices, and it isn’t good for the farm­ers who don’t want to sell be­cause their as­sess­ments are go­ing up be­cause their value is go­ing up,” she said. “But it is good for the farm­ers that are sell­ing be­cause they are get­ting crazy dol­lars for their prop­er­ties.” [email protected]­ twit­

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