Councilors in Grey and Oxford agreed to lower the ratios
By Diego Flammini
Councilors in some areas of Ontario have agreed to lower farm tax ratios.
In Grey County, for example, producers will see the farmland tax ratio drop from 24 per cent to 21.8 per cent of the residential tax rate.
Council voted 51-39 in favour of the decision.
Adjusting the farmland tax ratio will save more than 7,600 farm class tax properties almost $220,000 in taxation this year, County representatives estimated. That dollar figure will be shifted to other tax classes like residential or industrial.
Farmland values in the area have continued to rise. Prices increased from around $7,000 per acre in 2016 to $10,000 per acre in 2019, the University of Guelph’s Ontario Farmland Survey shows.
Last year, taxes collected from Grey County farmers accounted for about 4.2 per cent of the overall budget.
Grey County councilors agreed to modify mathematical formulas to help farmers pay the same percentage of tax, even if the dollar amount goes up.
“The farm community’s tax burden is the same now as it was before as a percentage of the overall” budget, Hugh Simpson, the president of the Grey County Federation of Agriculture, told Farms.com. “Farmers will pay more in taxes, but they will not pay more than their traditional share as a percentage of the overall budget in Grey County.”
The move indicates that councilors understand the importance of ag in the community. The decision also acknowledges the challenges farmers are facing given the COVID-19 pandemic, Simpson said.
“It sends a good, solid message from the political influencers that Grey County is an agricultural community,” he said. “What COVID-19 has done is spotlight the sovereignty of our food supply chain and the role that farmers play.”
Oxford County is another jurisdiction that agreed to lower its farm tax ratio.
Regional councilors approved reducing the ratio from 23.5 per cent of the residential tax rate to 21.7 per cent.
The reduction will save area farmers a sum totaling almost $374,000 in 2020. Like in Grey County, that dollar amount will be picked up by other tax classes.
Ag representatives in Oxford County took a similar approach to their counterparts in Grey County.
“When you look at the total dollars coming from the farmland to the County levy, we wanted to make sure that stayed at the same level,” Dirk Boogerd, president of the Oxford County Federation of Agriculture, told Farms.com. “Services have remained the same over the last four years regardless of what land pricing shows on the (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation’s) assessment. So, we want to make sure we’re not overpaying for services we don’t get.”
Keeping ratios fair across all tax classes is important, he added.
Oxford County councilors are taking steps to ensure all residents pay their fair share of taxes.
The council has formed a committee to look at all tax ratios to determine appropriate taxation numbers.
“We’re fortunate to have that here,” Boogerd said. “It really shows an understanding and willingness to make sure that whatever they decide is fair for everybody.”
Producers in some communities, however, won’t have their tax ratios lowered.
Huron County politicians voted against reducing the ratio from 25 per cent to 21.7 per cent.
Lowering the ratio would mean shifting almost $1 million in taxes onto other Huron residents, Michael Blumhagen, treasurer for Huron County, presented during an April 15 council meeting.
“While there have been a number of municipalities having reduced their farmland tax ratio, many of those do not have such a high proportion of farmland as a total of overall assessment,” Blumhagen’s document said. “Unfortunately, as compared to many other municipalities, Huron County does not have a strong commercial and industrial base to assist in offsetting the tax burden for the residential taxpayer.”
The local federation of agriculture, along with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, will continue to educate local politicians about the need to lower the ratio, said Crispin Colvin, a director with the OFA.
“We’re trying to explain to the counties that they’re shifting (taxes) to a group that doesn’t have the ability to pay the increases,” he told Farms.com. “We want to get councils to understand that a tax ratio change can be a revenue-neutral thing. Communities are going to have the same amount of money.”
To date, 18 Ontario municipalities have lowered their farm tax ratios, Colvin said.