Recently, a letter accompanied SD&G's municipal tax bills titled Farm and Forest Rebates with this unproven statement: "How a good idea turned into an unfair burden."
I am so frustrated how SD&G county mayors and deputy mayors portray the farming community as a burden to residential taxpayers. The truth is, for all those years when farmers paid 100 per cent of the residential property-tax rate on their land and got back 75 per cent from the province (months later), it was the farmers who were subsidizing residential and commercial properties. Furthermore, when the province reimbursed farmers, the municipalities kept the money collected up front from farmers, but used it as they pleased. That's just as today with the provincial reimbursement portions given to municipalities for the farm tax rebate in the Ontario Partnership Fund.
Think about it, why would the province pay more for farmers if municipalities aren't showing they pay out millions ever year for farmers over and above the money they get yearly from the province now?
It's never been clear where the alleged $200-million dollar "burden" comes from. Municipalities have yet to fully explain what their costs are, other than saying the loss of the rebate costs them millions each year. The mayors and deputies, I say, have a duty to actually show a bill or an out-of-pocket cost, not just a figure they would have received from farmers at a 100 per cen tax rate.
With statements like "The financial burden is largely on homeowners" and "The burden on local taxpayers is both large and growing," again with no proof of a bill or anything concrete to back up these statements, intentional or not, the farmer is being depicted as the drain on municipal budgets. Such statements are misleading to non-farming taxpayers, allowing them to think farmers don't pay 100 per cent on any property, when in fact, farmers do pay that amount on the value of their home and a surrounding acre, just like a residential homeowner.
Even more shocking and dizzying is that all 12 representatives at SD&G Counties seem to never question the direction or consequences their actions and statements could have and are having on the farming community. Who there is looking out for farmers' concerns or even considering them?
Besides, other sources of funding have changed or ended. Why not go after rural infrastructure funding, it's not what it use to be. Why pursue this after 10 years and after paying two tax lawyers to tell the county there are no grounds for a lawsuit?
The fact is, hayfields, croplands, stockyards, pastures, barns and wooded lots don't draw heavily on services, unlike housing. Every new home built requires additional services which costs more. The province does provide means for this expansion, by allowing municipalities to levy development charges to the new comer.
It's hard to believe that local municipalities with no (or insufficient) development charges struggle with service costs required by the housing sector, while pointing to the farmer as reason for raising taxes, according to SD&G's letter.
I don't claim to have the answer. There is never an easy fix to budget shortfalls, dwindling reserves or bad planning. But councils that continue this patronizing propaganda -- wasting time, tax dollars and damaging relationships without any proof a burden exists -- will never get the province to open up the purse strings. And like it or not, farmlands and forests require few services, and the province knows this, so the 25 per cent stays because it's fair.
Our Mayors and Deputies should seriously rethink their focus before this goes any further.