Farmers seek tax relief

Farmers crowded the council chamber at Governor Simcoe Square Wednesday looking for a break on their taxes.They were there to listen to economist Ben LaFort, senior policy adviser for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, make the case for a tax-rate adjustment that would keep farm tax increases in Norfolk in line with other property classes.“Farm taxes have been far and away the major issue for us in recent years,” LaFort told Norfolk council. “It’s reaching the point where we are building on previous assessment increases and it’s becoming quite a burden for our members.”The Norfolk Federation of Agriculture has sought relief from galloping tax increases for the past 10 years. Over that time, farmland in Ontario has been skyrocketing in value.LaFort cited the example of several municipalities that have adjusted the tax-rate multiplier to eliminate annual tax increases of 10 per cent a year and more. On behalf of the local membership, LaFort asked Norfolk council to do the same.LaFort explained that current-market value is a blunt instrument for determining what farmers should pay. More fair and realistic, he said, would be municipal taxes based on how much revenue the land generates.Another approach, LaFort added, is a calculation based on what farmers receive from renting their land.Seeking context, some on Norfolk council asked the farmers in the gallery about the land valuations they’ve received from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation in Brantford.One farmer had his assessment with him and said his 130-acre farm, with a 60-year-old house, has an assessed value of $1.5 million.Bob Vogelzang of Waterford, a past president of NFA, told council he would be tempted to sell his farm if he thought he could get what MPAC suggests it’s worth.Charlotteville Coun. Chris Van Paassen said a tax bill based on farm income could be a losing proposition. Given the going rate for corn and soybeans, Van Paassen said there’s a good chance the municipality might end up owing farmers money.That said, Van Paassen said Wednesday’s deputation has a good case because municipalities deliver few services to farmland. Annual increases on taxes, he said, don’t reflect that.Prime agricultural land is on an upward trajectory because new land is not being cultivated.Meanwhile, Ontario’s population continues to grow, creating demand for additional food production. As well – despite provincial planning policies that protect farm land — LaFort said the province continues to lose acreage to sprawl and development.Adding to the upward pressure are European farmers who cash out their small acreages overseas for large sums of money and re-invest it in larger farms in Canada. These factors have put prime agricultural land in high demand and raised its price.The delegation was disappointed with the answers it received.OFA members want immediate relief but Norfolk staff isn’t sure that’s possible. County tax collector Sue Boughner told council the property class tax rate for farms and other types of property in Norfolk won’t be recalibrated until later this year.“That time-line is not going to work,” said Larry Davis of Burford, Norfolk, Haldimand and Brant’s representative to the OFA.“We need immediate action. I wish some councillors would’ve said something. It looks like we’ll be coming back and doing this again.”MSonnenberg@postmedia.com read more