Farm tax ratio discussion about more than just dollars and cents

There has been much consternation and debate about the Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture’s request to County council to see the farm tax ratio reduced from 25 per cent of the residential tax rate to 20 per cent. There probably shouldn’t be as it is more than just a dollars and cents equation.

For the average Prince Edward County residential ratepayer, the increase amounts to about $11 a year, while many farmers are seeing their tax bills rise by thousands annually and they’re slated to a steadily higher percentage of the County’s overall taxation revenue over a four-year period.

To be fair, most residential ratepayers aren’t to blame for those increases.They were produced through changes in Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) value assessments that recognize farmland in this community is being sold for increasingly high prices. It only makes sense that they’d have concern about seeing their cost of living rising once more.

In considering the increase, however, one should look at the value of farmland actually being worked and, further, the question of who is working it. Going back to the barley days, through its history in the canning industry, and now, looking at new value-added farming and agri-tourism, agriculture and local food has been a driving force of the county’s economy. Could the county get to a point where that tradition is jeopardized? Farmers have already sustained massive hikes in hydro fees and through the impacts of carbon tax throughout the supply chain. The impact of increasing protectionism outside of Ontario is also a factor. One could suggest there’s only so much of a hit active farmers can sustain, particularly when they can’t raise prices by comparable amounts. What happens then?

Agriculture provides a number of steady jobs in an area that has traditionally struggled to find diversity across sectors. Those people may not find work elsewhere within the community. Perhaps, if enough farmers decide to leave the business over the long term, there could be an impact on grocery store prices and there’s certainly something to be said for the nutrition content of a local diet.

It’s quite possible those farmers could make money selling their land — and some would say they’re better off to do so given assessment. Chances are the land could be sold to someone who is looking to develop or not actively farm, or it could end up in the hands of a mega-farmer who doesn’t reside in the county. There’s still benefit of that person engaging in farming, of course, but would they offer the same involvement in the community a year-round farmer would? That move may impact enrolment in schools, it may push retailers barely surviving through a harsh winter further toward the brink, and it could have a negative impact on donations for the hospital, community agencies, arts programs, and sports teams.

All told, it seems like there’s a lot at risk for less than a dollar a month for the average ratepayer. That’s something for councillors to consider next week.

No one likes to see their taxes increase, that’s a given. At the same time, no one is saying the requested tax shift has to happen in isolation. Taxpayers should expect their elected representatives at Shire Hall to do everything in their power to find the right balance of services and savings to ensure vibrancy. If councillors aren’t actively seeking growth to make infrastructure more affordable, vote them out. If candidates look at increases in assessment from farming as a windfall and don’t plan to make tough decisions on spending, don’t elect them. If easing the farm tax ratio helps keep the community diverse and vibrant, that should be seen as a tool in itself. This is a big-picture discussion and it can’t be reduced to one issue and “ us” and “them.”

-Adam Bramburger