Farmers upset with development charges on farm buildings

Cows don’t skate and farmers don’t want to see development char­ges on non-residential farm buildings.

Despite the weather, it was a full house on Monday night as about 50 farmers packed the council chamber to make their views on development charges for farms known.

Prior to the session, Mayor Mike Broomhead explained it was not a public meeting, but that David Parker, president of the Wellington Federation of Agriculture, was on the council agenda as a delegation.

Broomhead said those who wished to have a public meeting could do so at a later date, and everyone would have an opportunity to speak.

“As you can see, you have the attention of the agricultural community,” said Gord Grant, a member services representative for the Waterloo, Welling­ton Dufferin Federations of Agriculture.

In Parker’s absence, Grant read Parker’s presentation and explained Parker was still in transit at that point because of poor roads.

“Simply stated, the Well­ington Federation of Agricul­ture strongly objects to development charges on agricultural buildings,” Grant said.

The reasons are, “Develop­ment charges are not charged in neighbouring townships, or more importantly, by the County of Wellington. On­tario’s farmers are constantly battling on an unfair playing field when it comes to food production. Canadian farmers face some of the most stringent rules for food safety and yet must compete on the retail shelf with countries that can’t or won’t enforce food safety regulations anywhere close to Canadian standards.

“Ontario farmers must compete with their North American counterparts using farmlands that are already some of the highest priced on the continent.

“Now, Wellington North farmers will have an additional barrier to enhancing or expanding their operations as compared to farmers only a few conces­sions away. The inconsistency of these developments charges is blatantly unfair.”

Grant said the “development charges will force many farmers to go elsewhere if they have any intentions of significant investments in livestock facilities.

“Many of Wellington North’s farmers are engaged in livestock enterprises that have always survived on low margins (such as beef). The current development charges are an additional cost that will make potential developments financially unviable. Meanwhile farm­ers in neighbouring townships will continue with improvements.”

He said, “In the end, the agricultural land base will deteriorate and there will be no addi­tional revenues for Well­ington North.”

He said the county development charges bylaw provides exemptions for non-residential farm buildings constructed for bona fide farm uses.

“The County of Wellington shows a clear understanding of the unique circumstances and value of agriculture by exempting development charges.” said Grant.

He said, “The WFA insists that Wellington North provide a clear and adequate explanation for this inconsistency that severely impacts Wellington North’s major employer, agriculture.”

The presentation also contended development charges will slow farm environmental improvements to a crawl

Grant said, “Wellington County farmers have completed $8.68-million in capital im­provements through the Rural Water Quality Program since 1999. In just the latest round of the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) from 2005 to 2008, Wellington County farmers have completed 630 projects and have access more than $2.7-million in federal government funding. The EFP is a farmer-initiated program that has been in place since 1994 and has been the model for similar programs around the world.”

He said, “Projects that in­volve manure storage are the most capital intensive and ac­count for most of the money spent.”

Grant used the example of $6.22-million of the $8.68-million spent to date through the Rural Water Quality program.

He said “over the years there has been an increase in the number of covered barnyard projects. This is particularly relevant to Wellington North as it is more common with smaller herds and solid manure handling systems. This type of environmental im­prove­ment involves structures with significant square footage.

“The case of the OFA member who brought the issue of Wellington North’s development charges to the attention of the WFA is the perfect example.

– the member identified barnyard runoff was a potential issue through the EFP and took action to secure a portion of funding for a covered barnyard available through EFP incentives.

– the member approached Wellington North in July 2008 for a building permit and was denied due to structural concerns raised about the proposed project.

– the member returned in the fall with a revised plan that was acceptable and was presented with a new development charge that exceeded the amount to be received in funding form the EFP program. The charge was subsequently re­duced, but still substantially more than anticipated.

– the member is now faced with the situation of paying up front for unexpected development charges that will use up a significant portion of EFP funds, funds the member will not receive until completion of the project.

– the member is fully prepared to pay a reasonable cost for the permit, but would not have proceeded with this environmental improvement had the development charges been revealed at the time of his initial application.

Parker’s presentation pointed out that “Wellington North’s development charges in this case are effectively treating farmers as convenient bankers to move funds from one level of government to another. Wellington North’s development charges seriously dampen the effect of government assistance for environmental im­provements. The farmers of Well­ington County have contributed 70% of their own money to projects undertaken in the Rural Water Quality program.

“Farmers cannot afford to make these large capital im­provements for the sake of the environment alone, as it can be financial unsound to do so.

“Farmers do not receive one penny more for their milk by making these improvements.  The effect of incentive funding is critical to the business decisions around environmental pro­jects. Development charges will significantly deter capital intensive farm in Wellington North.

“The WFA insists that Wellington North provide a detailed explanation to the agricultural community as to how they might offset this loss of farm funding for environmental projects.”

Parker, in his letter, contended agriculture uses proportionately fewer municipal services.

“The history of agriculture in Wellington North has been the story of a sector that has contributed greatly to the rural infrastructure. From the days of original settlement, farmers played a pivotal role in building roads and creating the communities we enjoy today. To­day, farmers are still the ones we can rely on to live, work, and spend within the community.

“Within the farm community of Wellington North, the growing Mennonite and Old Order communities are noteworthy. This is particularly im­portant in relation to development charges because these communities are vastly more self-sustaining than other parts of the community.

“They are minimal users of municipal services. They are quietly and effectively maintaining and improving a large number of the farms of Well­ington North. They will pay for more than their fair share of municipal services through development charges.

“The Wellington Federation of Agriculture would like to underline the fact that farmers in the county are already providing a substantial positive contribution to the environment and are essentially providing a significant level of unpaid goods and services.

He suggested that if the David Suzuki Foundation report on the value of agricultural and wild landscapes in the Greenbelt is correct, “the farmers of the County of Wellington are stewards of agricultural land that produce over $200-million per year of environmental goods and services.”

He noted when farm properties are shifted from production to wetlands, the value to society as a whole is huge, but “the gain to the individual farm­er given loss of agricultural productivity in perpetuity is next to nil.”

Currently farmers may be forced under the Clean Water Act to retire farmland or limit their activities without compensation. The issue of fairness is growing in the farm community. Development charges in Wellington North greatly ag­gravate that growing sense of unfairness.

“The WFA would like to underline the fact that agriculture is far more expansive than manufacturing or commercial enterprises.”

“Animals like pigs don’t drive on a daily basis, sheep don’t use ambulance services, and cows don’t skate.”

Wellington North Mayor Mike was concerned with the tone of the WFA letter, which he believes was not necessary. He said the issue was brought to council fairly recently.

In late October, a delegation representing Colvin and Eliza­beth McAlister came re­gard­ing development charges for a project, including a farm building and re-roofing. However, he believes council’s review of the development charges was “well publicized” and he said there was a whole series of public meetings.

“I know a lot of people are going to say I didn’t know or didn’t understand, but it was clearly spelled out when we had our meetings that we were addressing development charg­es for all sectors of our community – which obviously in­cludes farming.

“I can’t get over the first time someone gets charged, then all of a sudden everyone’s upset.”

He considered some of the presentation was strongly word­ed prior to giving council a chance to respond.

But Broomhead did agree that the presentation brought up a lot of good points.

However, as to concerns that Wellington North is the only municipality with such charges, “You might be surprised with how many there are.”

The municipality checked with its consultant, CN Wat­son, and of that company’s client base of 58 municipalities, 25 do not exempt farm operations, Broomhead said. He agreed it is not quite a 50:50 split, “but the trend is moving that way.”

As people are doing their development charges studies, Broomhead said more and more municipalities are adopting similar approaches.

“The big thing is, that is why we have our public meetings.”

While he appreciated the number of people attending the meeting that night, he added that the development charges bylaw is not just something council can suddenly set aside.

Council can reconsider, “but not one person who came to the public meetings thought that development charges was a good thing.”

But, he noted, many also believed development charges were something which we needed. “Whether we did it right in regard to the farming community, we’ll test that.”

Broomhead said he is willing to check what was done in other communities. “But as far as setting that bylaw aside … that’s not going to happen.”

Even if council wanted to do it that night, Broomhead said it is not possible. “We’ve heard you loud and clear.”

He said council’s decision was based on what it heard during the public meetings.

Councillor Ross Chaulk brought up the issue of the former farm tax rebate – wherein farmers could apply for a rebate from the province.

When that was done away with instead of everyone in the province subsidizing the farmers, now it is only the people within the municipality “which means, in a nutshell, we’ve lost 75% of our farm tax revenue. Something had to be done.”

Councillor Bob Mason said that there were a number of public meetings mainly attended by builders and developers.

He agreed that council could not make a decision that night.

Councillor John Matusinec said perhaps the municipality did not do as good a job as it could have for getting the message out. Of the phone calls got, he said there were a number of unfair scenarios – one of which was a proposal for a hay storage building where the de­velopment charges were more than the cost to put the building up. He supports the idea of looking into the matter.

He pointed out there was not much comment from the farming community during the public meetings.

When asked if each farmer was mailed the information, officials said there were notices in all the local newspapers.

Councillor Dan Yake said it is unfortunate the WFA was not able to attend the public meetings. He added there are 25 municipalities that are not exempt, and that other federations have taken on the issue.

Yake said council has the ability to speak with CN Watson.

Grant said he did appreciate that there was notification in The Wellington Advertiser, but he said that even the larger contractors, when they saw the bylaw, understood what the impact really was on the farm, when the bylaw specified its affect on residential and non-residential properties.

Grant said that given the severe impact on the farm community, different scenarios were not examine and as a result there have been some sac­rificial lambs.

He said both the WFA and council may have been able to do better.

Grant said he appreciates there has been tinkering with the farm tax rebate, but that in itself has not changed the farm economy. “It’s like trying to get blood from a stone.”

Chaulk said, “I’d be quite happy to rescind this if we could get the farm tax rebate back.”

He said right now larger cities are getting a free ride.

Grant said CN Watson may be able to work with a budget, but questioned if they could determine how much can come out of people’s pockets.