CORNWALL – Farmers looking for property tax relief or a simple stay on increases were left disappointed after a formal presentation and request made by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) to the United Counties of SDG council.

Jackie Pemberton, OFA director of zone 11, and Ben Le Fort, OFA senior policy analyst, presented their case to council Mon., Oct. 21.

Property tax for farmland is determined by the assessed value of the land by the Municipal Property Assessment Corp (MPAC) and the local tax ratio policy.

The farm property tax ratio is currently at 25 per cent within SD&G, meaning that farmers pay a quarter of the residential tax rate. The ratio is meant to level the playing field so that the property tax burden doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the largest landowners, the farmers.

The crux of the argument is that the tax burden has unfairly shifted to farmers and Le Fort presented numbers that support the case.

Since 2016 the percentage of the tax burden carried by farmers increased from 6.4 per cent to 9.6 per cent in 2019. That equals an increase of $2-million in farm tax burden.

Assessment changes in farmland values have also increased by 91 per cent compared to only 11 per cent for residential. Coupled with an average assessment of more than $9,000 an acre compared to a national average of approximately $2,000 according to the 2016 agricultural census, the burden on Ontario farmers is growing each passing year.

South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds was the lone voice of support.

“The counties, all things being equal, have gotten an extra $2-million dollars from farmers,” he said. “Comparing 11 to 91 per cent is a big difference. That’s where the biggest challenge is. I think [the OFA] has a valid case.”

North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser was less empathetic.

“We all suffer from the burden of taxes one way or another. The main tool we use is the information provided by MPAC,” said Fraser.

He added that market conditions increase the value of commercial, residential and farmland property and that taxes subsequently increase, but that “the percentage of burden doesn’t change.”

Le Fort’s presentation directly refutes that with the 2020 tax burden for local farmers projected to be 10.5 per cent of the total collected, more than double what it was in 2009.

The OFA proposal to adjust the ratio to 22.6 per cent, which would hold the farmers’ tax burden where it is now until the new MPAC assessments come, was referred to the budgeting process, but council declined a further report on the idea from staff.