OFA: Working with municipalities to cope with change

By Debra Pretty-Straathof, Regional Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Premier Doug Ford announced this week that his government is moving forward with the plan to download the cost of some provincial services to municipalities. Shifting more financial responsibility to Ontario’s 444 municipalities will have implications for those residents in rural communities across the province.

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Speaking at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Toronto, Premier Ford confirmed that the provincial government will be providing some $300 million less funding to our municipalities in 2020.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) understands that these actions put added stress on municipal budgets and leave municipal leaders with tough decisions to make about how to make up the shortfall. Many will look to property taxes as a means to make up the revenue shortfall. But OFA urges caution to municipalities that may consider imposing higher farm property taxes as a stopgap solution.

When farm property taxes go up, without a corresponding increase in services provided, the net result is to stifle overall business growth, especially for the agriculture sector, and ultimately hurt the local community.

OFA has been working diligently with municipalities for several months on understanding farm property taxes and encouraging municipalities to limit, not increase, taxes for farm property. Our approach is to have tax bills reflect the degree of services required by farm properties, while protecting farm business competitiveness.

More than ever, we need to work together to find municipal cost savings. There is potential for savings for local infrastructure improvements if we pragmatically look at needs versus available technologies. Infrastructure such as roads, bridges, culverts and drainage are critical to a successful farming sector. It is incumbent on the farm sector to not just demand low taxes but to collaborate with our municipalities to help ensure economical infrastructure.