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Mapleton Township scraps agricultural development charge

by Patrick Raftis

MAPLETON - There will be no development charges on farm building construction in Mapleton.

At its Feb. 7 meeting, council passed a resolution amending a proposed development charges bylaw update to maintain the status quo on agricultural buildings.

The proposal would have ended a 100 per cent exemption on development charges for buildings constructed for “a bona fide farm use.”

A revised bylaw would have reduced the exemption to 75%, meaning someone building a new barn would have to pay 25% of the non-residential rate of $2.65 per square foot of gross floor area, or 66 cents/ft.

Local farmers and leaders of area farm organizations voiced opposition to the proposal at council meetings on Oct. 11 and Nov. 8, and the idea was met with nothing but opposition at a public meeting in Moorefield on Jan. 26.

Councillor Lori Woodham noted local farm organizations offered support for council’s efforts to have the provincial government raise the amount it shares with municipalities from the farm property taxes it takes in.

She suggested focusing on that route to find the money needed for infrastructure improvements.

“We most recently went to the minister (of municipal affairs) and had a delegation (at the recent Rural Ontario Municipal Association convention),” said Woodham.

“We talked about doing one-offs with our MPs and delegations, and I’m just thinking, seeing this effort being put forth by everybody, why can’t we all now start to work together?”

Woodham suggested the proposed bylaw be revised to continue the 100 per cent development charge exemption for farm buildings.

Councillor Michael Martin said council doesn’t have enough information on which to base the charges.

“We don’t have any data to support these ideas at least at the moment … I don’t have vetted, objective data that says our roads and bridges are deteriorating at a greater rate than normal,” Martin stated.

A resolution to proceed with the bylaw implementing the reduced agricultural exemption and amending the 2016 Development Charges Update Study to factor in increased estimates of the cost of upgrading water capacity was defeated.

A new motion, to proceed with other bylaw changes without altering the agricultural exemption was then put forward.

While initially in favour of ending the agricultural exemption, councillor Marlene Ottens said public input changed her mind.

“I’ve never thought about an issue as much as I’ve thought about this,” said Ottens.

“I’ve waffled back and forth as a farmer, as someone who would be affected by this personally ... but in the end, I felt the public spoke. People came out ... again and again, and if I had heard enough from the public in favour of it, I might have changed my mind.

“But all I heard were people opposed with very good reasons; very well thought out, very articulate reasons and I was impressed by that, and I was swayed by that.”

Ottens added, “I guess the squeaky wheel got the grease in this case. I know we need money, I don’t know where it’s going to come from, but I guess not here.”

Martin said the debate on the issue has been very civil, given the controversial nature of the proposal.

“This has certainly been … probably the biggest local issue we’ve had as a council, and I know there’s been some very strong opinions voiced,” Martin said.

He added, “You could tell people deep down were really upset, yet they could stand there with me and have polite, respectful conversations about it … it’s one thing that I really appreciate.”

While acknowledging the need for funds to maintain roads, Martin said he felt development charges, designed to fund growth-related improvements, wouldn’t solve the main problem.

“I’m not certain that there was going to be a lot of development charge money that could have been allocated …  I’m not sure this would really have addressed our needs per se.”

Councillor Dennis Craven said, “When you’re elected to office one of most important things you can do is listen to your ratepayers, and in this case, the ratepayers have spoken and I listened.”

Mayor Neil Driscoll said “it’s been a great process” and indicated he would support council’s decision “110 per cent.”

However, he noted the township is no closer to solving its infrastructure cash crunch and questioned farmers’ resolve to step up and lobby the province on the farm taxation issue.

“Will the OFA help us when we go to delegations? No, they won’t. As soon as we start talking about the farm property tax rebate coming back to the municipality, OFA will tell you that they want further reductions on our farm property tax rebate program,” Driscoll said.

“I will be so glad when this issue is over ... Yes, at the public meeting people were professional, I’ll give you that.

“But as a farmer and a business owner, I have to disagree a little bit. The comments I have received, my family has received, the people who put their head down when they meet me on the street because of this issue, that’s fine, but I was elected to look after the people and to give them what I think they’re going to need in the future.”

Stating he hoped he was wrong, Driscoll suggested the decision would come back to haunt the township.

“I predict that farmers are going to be coming to us as a delegation saying, ‘Sorry council, these roads are not up to the standard that we need for today, we need them improved,’” he said.

“And that’s great, we will deal with it at that time, but if any of the farmers that came to that meeting, or spoke to me, or called me, or sent me emails can tell me that their equipment and their farms have not changed in the last 50 years, then we need to have a discussion, because we all know that our equipment has vastly gotten larger. Let’s start with our milk trucks; they’re no longer tandems, they’re five-axle tankers.”

Driscoll said residents of Mapleton’s urban centres “are already paying” for future infrastructure upgrades. “Every time there’s a house built in Mapleton, a house anywhere, they’re paying ten to seventeen thousand in development charges to build that house.

“They’re using the same road that I am for my farm unit and for me to say I can’t afford this extra money that I would have to pay, that’s fine, but where’s it going to come from?”

Driscoll added, “I said when I came on council that I don’t want to the mayor that closes bridges. But if I’m the mayor that can’t get any more tax dollars coming in, then I’ll have to be the mayor that closes bridges.”

A draft development charges bylaw maintaining the 100 per cent exemption for bona fide farm use construction will be on the agenda at the Feb. 21 meeting.

February 17, 2017


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