Pro­vin­cial group pushes for lo­cal farm tax re­lief

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION - JONATHAN JUHA

On­tario’s largest farm um­brella 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. The OFA has been ask­ing coun­ties across South­west­ern On­tario’s farm belt to lower their tax ra­tios for farm­ers. 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 to help ease the fi­nan­cial fall­out for farm­ers from rising prop­erty val­ues. “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. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from Farm Credit Canada, the value of farm­land in On­tario has gone up each year since 2008. The big­gest year-to-year in­crease came in 2012 when prices sky­rock­eted a whop­ping 30.1 per cent.

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. That would make a typ­i­cal 100-acre par­cel worth $1.84 mil­lion, or roughly $300,000 more than four years ago.

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

The group has al­ready con­vinced four coun­ties — Ox­ford, Lambton, Brant and Chatham-Kent — to lower their ra­tios. Perth de­cided to keep the sta­tus quo.

Le Fort said the av­er­age in­crease in tax­able as­sess­ment for farm­land in Mid­dle­sex — set by the Mu­nic­i­pal Prop­erty As­sess­ment Corp. — has gone up 10 times more than the av­er­age in­crease for res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties.

This has led to taxes from farm prop­er­ties cov­er­ing an ever-grow­ing por­tion of the county ’s to­tal tax rev­enue.

“In 2018, the County of Mid­dle­sex col­lected a record level of taxes from farm prop­er­ties,” Le Fort said. “So, ba­si­cally, our re­quest is to main­tain the 2018 level of taxes and not set a new one in 2019.” One county politi­cian, how­ever, doesn’t think that low­er­ing the ra- tio is that sim­ple. Strathroy-Caradoc Mayor Joanne Van­der­hey­den, who sits on 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,” said Van­der­hey­den. “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 the value of their prop­er­ties, 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,” she said. “But it is good for the farm­ers that are sell­ing be­cause they are get­ting crazy dol­lars for their prop­er­ties.”

The as­sess­ment of farm­land, rel­a­tive to res­i­den­tial (prop­er­ties), is way out of whack.

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