If farmland property taxes are too high, don’t pay them.
That’s what Dugald farmer Edgar Scheurer suggested while commenting on Facebook about Manitoba Co-operator stories on skyrocketing farmland taxes.
Is Scheurer, who faces a 95 per cent jump in his Rural Municipality of Springfield tax bill, seriously suggesting a tax revolt or being facetious? Although he likes the idea, which would get elected officials’ attention and possibly lead to reforms, Scheurer said he hasn’t been flooded with backing by other disgruntled farmers.
“It’s sad how we just take it,” he said Oct. 12 in an interview. “If this were happening in France you know what would be happening — farmers would be in the streets protesting.”
Although Scheurer’s taxes have almost doubled from 2015, some landowners have seen bigger increases. One is Harold Penner who owns land in the Municipality of Emerson-Franklin. Taxes on one of his quarter sections, farmed by his son, are up a whopping 111 per cent to $4,091.52 from $1,934.99.
“The enormous increase is indeed a huge burden to farmers, especially young farmers trying to get their feet on the ground managing a huge debt load,” Penner wrote in an email last week. “It’s also hard to understand that society demands that farmers bear such a high percentage of the burden of education in this province. Why is that? Is education not something that everyone should be paying for?”
Manitoba farmers have long complained the special education levy on farmland and production buildings puts too much tax burden on them. Although education tax is part of the problem, there’s another factor at play — the rapid rise in the assessed value of farmland. When assessments go up so do taxes.
Farm Credit Canada says, on average, the value of Manitoba farmland has doubled in four years and in some municipalities property taxes have too. The result, says Municipality of Ste. Rose Mayor and farmer Rob Brunel, is the tax burden has shifted to farmers.
Emerson-Franklin’s 2017 budget is up 15 per cent due largely to higher road (gravel) and drainage costs, chief operating officer Tracey French said Oct. 14. The municipality’s mill rate dropped 13 per cent, but despite that some farmers are seeing a doubling of their property taxes because of a big jump in the assessed value of their land, she said. Other property owners’ taxes are up, but not by nearly as much, French added.
“It’s a real issue and we hope the provincial government is looking at it,” she said.
It is, according to Eileen Clarke, minister of indigenous and municipal relations, in an interview Sept. 27, but she didn’t provide any immediate solutions.
Removing the special education levy on farmland would reduce some of the tax burden on farmers, Scheurer said. Farmers can apply to get 80 per cent of the levy rebated, but it’s capped at $5,000.
Raising funds for education by taxing land doesn’t reflect the farmer’s ability to pay, he said. Farmers’ margins are falling and while their land might be worth more the only way to collect is to sell it, he said.
Many of Manitoba’s newly elected government MLAs are from rural constituencies and are or have been farmers. Premier Brian Pallister was raised on a farm near Portage la Prairie and still has family members farming. If this government can’t fix it, it’s doubtful another government will, Scheurer said.
Pallister was too busy for an interview last week, but in a statement Cameron Friesen, his finance minister, said the government recognizes rural Manitobans’ challenges.
“A review of Manitoba’s tax system is currently underway and ongoing as part of the value for money review,” Friesen’s statement says. “It would be premature to comment on any potential changes of the current system until that review is complete and recommendations are brought forward for consideration.”
The previous NDP government ignored the issue, the statement says.
“Our government has begun the necessary steps to fix our finances with targeted initiatives including a value for money review and a red tape reduction initiative.”
Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Dan Mazier is exasperated by such huge increases in farmland taxes.
“We hear these numbers and no one has a solution,” he said Oct. 13. “It’s not morally correct.
“I don’t know what to do or where to apply pressure. I just can’t get over the imbalance that is happening here.”
Meanwhile, the Manitoba School Boards Association is willing to discuss different ways to fund schools, executive director Josh Watt said in an interview Oct. 1.
“We definitely want to work with partners like KAP and AMM (Association of Manitoba Municipalities) in terms of a more detailed review of taxation in general,” Watt said. “We don’t want to rule anything out at this point because there might be merit in an idea or model that somebody has.”
Originally the special education levy was used by school boards to address local education issues and complement provincial funding, Watt said. But over time an increasing portion of funding is raised locally, he said. It varies by municipality. While estimates can be made the figures aren’t readily known, Watt said.
The association worries if school taxes are collected provincially it could undermine local autonomy and control, which has happened in other jurisdictions.
And that raises an important tenet: no taxation without representation — the lack of which sparked one of the world’s most famous tax revolts 200 years ago.