Farmers are paying too big a share of education taxes in many municipalities, the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) says in a submission to the Manitoba government’s Commission on Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education.
“KAP therefore recommends that the commission explore moving away from funding education through property taxes and evaluate alternative funding methods in Manitoba, focusing on a more equitable and sustainable funding model,” KAP’s brief says.
“KAP policy supports the complete removal of education taxes from all property, including agricultural land and production buildings. In the interim, KAP believes that the current farmland school tax rebate (of 80 per cent) should not be capped (at $5,000) and should be applied at the point of payment, the property tax bill.”
Now farmers pay all the education tax owed and then submit a form to get the tax rebate.
KAP has complained for years the current system is unfair to farmers. And while KAP’s submission acknowledges the review doesn’t include how to fund Kindergarten to Grade 12 education, it repeats the general farm organization’s call for reform.
“In recent years, farmland has been increasing in value at a rate that far outpaces other property classes,” KAP’s brief says.
KAP says their research has indicated that following the 2016 reassessment, the average increase in value for farmland across the province was 45 per cent. In some rural municipalities, the value of the farmland nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016.
“While the taxable portion of farmland value is lower than most other property classes (currently 26 per cent), the rapid, significant and disproportionate increases in farmland value that have occurred demonstrate the need to re-evaluate whether the use of property taxes is an equitable method of funding education,” their submission reads.
KAP noted farming today requires substantial amounts of land and said excessive taxation, due to the market value method of assessment applied to farmland in Manitoba, creates a heavy burden on farmers.
“It also results in farmers carrying a greater share of the education tax burden, relative to other residents, in many rural municipalities,” KAP said.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says once the commission comes up with a plan to improve public education, then the government will look at ways to fund it.
KAP doesn’t have specific policy on public education, its brief says, but as Manitoba farmers’ representative it advocates for rural schools and their students.
“The review speaks about providing equitable learning opportunities for all students and we urge the commission to ensure that rural students have access to the same learning opportunities and resources as those in urban areas — transportation, extracurricular activities, technology resources.”
KAP also wants schools to continue to be administered locally by elected trustees.
“School trustees play an important role in assessing the needs of local school divisions and determining local priorities, and we would like to see this role preserved in any future education system,” KAP’s brief says.
There’s speculation the commission might recommend more school division amalgamations.
The long tradition of Manitoba schools being administered locally by elected trustees is tied to the even older principle of no taxation without representation.
While KAP wants education taxes removed from property, if that happens it raises questions about the fate of local school boards if none of the money to fund them is raised locally.