Organizations representing farmers in Russell Township are considering joint action before the Ontario Municipal Board against development charges recently approved by Russell Township council.
The Russell County OFA and l'Union des cultivateurs franco-ontariens (UCFO) have until Oct. 5, the last day in this case for filing notice of appeal to the OMB, to decide. With deposit of a $125 administrative fee, any individual or organization has the right to appeal.
County OFA president Gerald Poupart and provincial UCFO president Alain Delorme have already sent toughly worded letters to township mayor Gaston Patenaude and members of council objecting to the inclusion of farm buildings in the new fee structure designed to cover part of the burden of expanding municipal services.
However, like arguments made by scores of local farmers, those of Poupart and Delorme have fallen on deaf ears. Russell Township finalized the bylaw approving the charges Aug. 26. In a concession to angry farmers, council agreed to review the bylaw as new recommendations are received.
"The farmers of Russell Township expect and deserve better reasoning and explanation of council's position," Poupart stated in an open letter. "How does the construction of an additional building on a farmer's land imply added burden?"
In his letter, Delorme suggested imposing the charges on farmers was "unjust, illogical and illegal". He noted it will be young farmers who'll suffer the most, because they'll erect most of the new farm buildings.
"Your tax will have the effect of discouraging them from investing in order to remain efficient and competitive against global competition."
Bylaw 69-99 covers all residential and industrial buildings, with several exceptions including garages, storage buildings, garden sheds, small additions, silos and manure storage facilities.
Also exempt are extensions of up to 50 per cent of the existing floor area on any industrial or farm building. Charges are also pro-rated to reduce the amount applicable to larger non-residential buildings. The farm rate is 62 cents a square-foot, half of the amount originally contemplated.
The imposition of development charges is part of a provincially driven incentive to transfer a large part of the cost of new fire protection, transportation, environmental, and recreational services for growing municipalities directly to developers and their customers.
However, the amounts vary from municipality to municipality and some townships have decided to forgive farmers in part or in whole on grounds agricultural expansion doesn't normally require service expansion.
At meetings held to discuss the issue, several Russell farmers made their points to no avail. Gilles Patenaude observed that farmers are hindered in their operations, not helped, by population growth; Helene Blanchard suggested council seek more funds from residential development rather than knocking on farmers' doors: "Any new buildings or extensions on our farms do not in any way participate in growth of the township. The agricultural community has no lights, no sidewalks, no water system and no sewer system."
Agriculture is the economic backbone of the county, said Poupart, and imposition of development charges will seriously undermine construction of efficient farming operations within the township. According to a recent survey, annual sales from the township's 170 registered farms total close to $20 million.
"Is it Russell Township's intent to give the surrounding townships the impression that it doesn't want farmers to invest and prosper within its boundaries."
Poupart said the focus should be kept on the sector which in fact requires additional municipal services, the residential sector: "The construction of possibly two or three dozen farm structures over the next few years is a drop in the bucket compared to the proposed construction of 600 houses."
Records show, he continued, that the number of farms in Russell and surrounding townships has decreased in recent years: "The imposition of unreasonable fees on these operations will most definitely discourage farming operations and could quite likely contribute to a further decrease."
He also said that levying local development charges was difficult to reconcile with the province's decision to wave taxes on farm building materials. The municipal decision, he said, has the effect of countermanding the provincial stance.