2009 final tax bills with incorrect data on farm properties is causing headaches

It’s a bit of a vicious circle for some local farm owners facing massive hikes to their tax bill … at least in the short term.

Wellington North Township staff know a number of final tax bills for this year are incorrect, but there is not much that can be done until MPAC delivers the revised information.

And, it seems Municipal Property Assessment Corpora­tion cannot send that information until it gets certain information from the Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs.

So, if farm owners are a bit tardy providing certain information to OMAFRA, it cannot process the documents to en­sure those properties are placed in the correct tax classification.

That seemed to sum up a recent report to Wellington North councillors from Treas­urer John Jeffery.

“The purpose of this memorandum was to make council aware of the challenges relating to the final tax bill that went out a number of weeks ago,” he reported. “We have a responsibility to issue the tax bills based on the information sent to us by MPAC.”

He said, “The final tax bills for 2009 were mailed recently. These bills levy the total tax for each property according to the assessment and property classification provided by the Municipal Assessment Cor­poration. This information is also used in the calculation of the property tax rates which were adopted in June by bylaw.

“However, the information provided to the township by MPAC included erroneous in­formation with respect to some farm properties. Farm properties attract a specific tax rate which is legislated as a function of the residential tax rate. In order to qualify for this preferential tax rate, the farm must be ‘bona fide’ farm earning a minimum gross revenue. This status is confirmed by the Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) after the submission to them of certain documents by the property owner. If this information is not supplied, the classification reverts to the full residential class and the higher tax rate (four times the amount) is used.

“In addition, if a farm property changes hands, the new owner must submit this documentation or the classification is changed to residential.

Jeffery said, “Every year there are a few farms who have neglected to submit the documentation and, if the property class change is identified early enough, the taxes can be ad­justed accordingly.”

But, in 2009, the number of properties that had changed, according to the 2009 official assessment roll, was significant. MPAC was made aware of that because OMAFRA had not supplied the confirming information in time. Jeffery said MPAC acknowledged the problem and that it would provide a correction. That commitment was made in February.

Treasury staff asked MPAC about the corrections frequently prior to the mailing of the tax bills, but were unable to get them.

“Accordingly the tax bills had to be prepared and mailed with the incorrect information. Treasury staff have received several telephone calls inquiring about the resultant increase in the tax bills and these calls have been referred to the MPAC call centre, Jeffery said.

“Staff are also still pursuing the correct information from MPAC and, when it is received, adjustments will be made accordingly. This situation is not unique in Wellington North. Neighbouring municipalities who issue their final tax bills later than Wellington North will have to contend with a similar issue in their communities.

He said the net result will be a number of adjustments being issued when the revised information is received.

The issue of the issuing of the tax bill and then a large number of corrections “creates no end of confusion,” he said. “We didn’t purposely increase their taxes.”

Councillor Dan Yake said other municipalities have similar issues.

Jeffery agreed.

He believes part the situation is a result of Wellington North’s being one of the earlier municipalities in sending out final tax bills.