Manitoba farmers are pushing the province’s new government to make changes to its property tax system after taxes owed on farmland climbed dramatically this year.
Depending on the municipality and school division, property taxes rose between $2 and $29 per acre year-over-year, explains Dan Mazier, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, in the interview below. There are anecdotal reports from farmers saying their tax bills jumped by as much as 90 percent.
The spike and shift in rural tax burden comes as a result of updated property assessments reflecting the increase in farmland values over the last few years. In some cases, residential and commercial property owners have seen their tax bills drop, as municipal and school board revenues have been offset by the spike in farmland values.
“If you start getting an additional $30 per acre tax bill, that adds up pretty quickly. It’s not fair or equitable right now,” says Mazier, noting rising land assessments do not in any way reflect a landowner’s ability to pay taxes.
“How do guys cashflow this? That’s a pretty sizable bill that you get a month in advance of when you have to pay.”
Dan Mazier following a KAP meeting on farm tax policy in Portage last week.
The increase has also been unpredictable, varying widely according to other economic factors driving mill rates within a given municipality or school division, he notes.
Some of this inequity could be addressed by removing school taxes from farm property, says Mazier — an issue KAP has been lobbying the province on for more than three decades. Unlike Saskatchewan, local school boards in Manitoba still collect education taxes on property. The province offers an 80 percent rebate on farmland school taxes, but it’s capped at $5,000.
Mazier says he thinks farmers’ call for tax reform is timely, with the new PC government currently reviewing its taxation policy.
In addition to having strong rural representation in the new government, Mazier notes it doesn’t hurt that the province’s education minister, Ian Wishart, also knows the issue well. Wishart is not only a farmer, but served in Mazier’s current role as KAP president from 2008 to 2010.
“If anything else, we know we have a minister that understands what’s going on. That’s a good thing,” says Mazier.
Although property taxes were due in most municipalities at the end of October, some farmers are refusing to pay out of protest. “They’re just that frustrated,” he says.
Mazier also acknowledges restructuring how municipal and school taxes are collected won’t be an easy task for Finance Minister Cameron Friesen, but he stresses it’s desperately needed.
“What we’re really pushing for here is a permanent fix and a whole re-jigging of our taxation system in Manitoba,” he says. “It’s no easy feat, but this new Progressive Conservative government has promised a re-evaluation on taxes and how we’re doing it.”