Farmers have growing concerns about the impact of development charges in Wellington North.
Between 250 to 300 residents were at the Arthur and District community centre April 16 to voice that concern. Some farm representatives attended to calmly discuss why they believed in the development charges; others seemed there simply to vent frustration.
There was joint letter on behalf of the National Farmers Union of Ontario, Wellington Christian Farmers Association, Wellington Federation of Agriculture and the Wellington County Cattlemen.
It stated, “Leaders and farm groups representing most if not all the farmers in Wellington North have met and considered the impact of proposed changes …. We have received many comments from our farm members. We feel that we have an important duty to respond in the interest of the estimated 400 farm businesses directly affected.”
The letter added, “The lumping of agriculture, commercial and industrial development under the catch-all category of ‘non-residential’ is problematic for a rural community like Wellington North and is the source of most of the concerns of the farm community. The template used for the current bylaw likely works well in urban areas but its application in rural areas requires careful refinement to avoid unnecessary damage to the local farm economy.
“Agriculture in Wellington North is a mature economy with an infrastructure base that had its beginnings in the original settlement of the area. Agriculture is capital intensive relative to its labour requirements and much less demanding of municipal services.”
The groups argued, “Equating agriculture to commercial and industrial development is comparing apples and oranges. There is no comparison, which is why most municipalities exempt agriculture.”
The letter noted the charges are “ to pay for increased capital costs required because of increased needs for services arising from development.”
They stated, Development charges are “levied to pay for growth-related capital costs such as roads, sewers and transit. They are used to fund initial capital costs to establish infrastructure needed to serve new growth (both residential and non-residential). Development charges do not pay for operating costs or for the future repair rehabilitation of infrastructure.”
They then wondered about the fairness of including agriculture, and asked what new roads are being built as a direct result of farmers building new barns, or if a new barn increases the need for a new fire truck. They asked how new farm buildings increase the need for parks and recreation, and if the permit fee for a farm building covers most of the administration, including the capital cost of office equipment.
The charged the new bylaw “offers to significantly reduce the development charges for bona fide farmers,” and provides exemptions to projects required by the Nutrient Management Act.
The update also highlights provisions for a demolition credit to be used when replacing farm buildings. While those changes would make development charges more palatable and affordable for farmers, they fail to address fundamental concerns, such as why did Wellington North, with a large farm community, choose not to exempt agriculture as the significant majority of municipalities do.
“We urge councillors of Wellington North to exempt agriculture from development charges,” the letter continued. An exemption for agriculture, which is the norm, would demonstrate that council understands the reality of farm business in Wellington North.
It stated an exemption for agriculture would demonstrate council understands the intent of development charges.
Agriculture has been an activity since original settlement. Land has passed from one generation to the next and for each new generation it is common improvements are made (often new buildings) to continue to keep the farm viable.
The letter noted, “Agriculture is an increasingly capital intensive business. A young farmer today is far more vulnerable than in previous generations from a financial standpoint.
The groups stated the bylaw hits a young farmer hardest, and the transition from old to new farmers in the next generation will be one of the most challenging ever in Ontario, because debt levels have never been higher, and farms have never been more expensive.
They charged investing in new technology, including passive solar heating and improved ventilation can be crucial to a young farmer’s success. A development charge will dampen investment by new young farmers.
They said farmers have made significant environmental improvements with the help of funding through the Environmental Farm Plan and the Rural Water Quality program. Modifications to building or costs in building to accommodate the latest in environmental practices will not result in additional costs for the township. In fact, the improved handling of manure directly benefits the farmer and, indirectly, everyone else.
Mayor Mike Broomhead said the meeting was to consider changes to the bylaw as it relates to agricultural properties.
Gary Scandlan, associate director of Watson & Associates, provided a detailed outline of development charges and the options proposed.
Broomhead said there would be time for delegations and questions.
He said of the bylaw as it relates to farm buildings and nutrient management projects, “The answer is positively … We should have done it differently.”
Scandlan said that charge has been around for 50 years, though in the past they were known as lot levies. The charges primarily affect new construction.
Three main options were presented as applicable to bona fide farming operations. Those option were a 90% reduction, 75% reduction, or a 50% reduction.
In the face of the options presented before them, the audience believed they should not apply to them at because of agriculture’s unique place in the community. Arguments were made new farm buildings had no impact on infrastructure required for roads, fire protection, or recreation.
Scandlan said while it may be true one barn on its own does not affect the infrastructure of the municipality – the issue is the cumulative effect in the municipality.
Water and sewage development charges affect only those who use them. He explained if services are not covered through development charges they are added to the tax bill of everyone in the municipality.
He added the proposed development charges were being phased in over five years.
WFA president David Parker, said “The proposed imposition of development charges by Wellington North has certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest. We hope to show that the recommendations are out of touch with rural lifestyles,” and the impact will be detrimental to the long term viability of the agriculture in the township.
Parker said recent trends have seen properties thought to be “farmed out” which have been purchased, tile drained and vast amounts of capital spent on improvements.
“These are being farmed as family farms, paying property taxes.” Those families, he said, contribute to the surrounding economy.
At the same time, he said, they are struggling to provide the environmental safeguards for the next generation. “The imposition of the development charges will definitely not encourage family farmers to go forward.”
He said it is the small family farm which is the backbone of the municipality – not township policies.
“With farmers facing tough economic times already, we ask, is this really necessary?”
Henry Stephens, past president of the Waterloo-Wellington Christian Farmers Association questioned the legitimacy of imposing development charges on non-residential farm structures. He said the intent of development charges is to pay for services required because of growth-related development costs.
He challenged council to show how a new barn would increase costs. He said many municipalities specifically exempt farm structures from development charges.
He added that previously, Wellington North had also exempted such development charges from bona fide farmers.
Ron Weber, president of the Waterloo-Wellington Farmers Union, asked “If I built a new barn, what new road would be constructed as a result of that barn?”
Scandlan said pointing to one individual project, and asking how it requires a new road or sewage treatment plant, shows obviously that one structure doesn’t require that. He said it is considering collective development over a longer period.
As the municipality grows, there are more buildings needing to be protected.
“But as it applies to one building, I conceded to that.”
Ruby Lennox, president of the Wellington County Cattlemen’s Association, said, “Everyone one knows Wellington North started with farmers.
She is a fourth generation of original settlers in the area and said there were a number of others in the room in the same situation. “Their forefathers were the ones who came here and cleared the land.”
The bylaw will put a halt to new farmers with sons or daughters taking over the family farm, or starting up one of their own she said.
Lennox added those people face development charges of $60,000 to $100,000 to put up a new barn to raise a family.
“The development charges is telling people to pick up and move elsewhere.”
Lisa Hern, of the Wellington Federation of Agriculture, said the bylaw seems to allow industrial expansion of up to 50% with the application of the charge. She wondered why that was not offered to farm properties as well.
Scandlan said the industrial exemption is mandatory.
Broomhead said changes are under consideration.
But, he pointed out charges for nutrient management items are being taken off the table.
One item brought to council’s attention is young farmers often do not qualify immediately as bona fide farmers.
Hern said they are not considered farmers until they have generated $7,000 in income. They have to file their income tax, and then file for a farm business registration.
She asked how how they would be able to put up a new hog barn and still pay the full rate. Those people must first meet financial regulations which require them to generate a specified amount of income.
The argument is that will take considerably longer to accomplish with the development charges in place.
Scandlan said the municipality has the ability to enter into a delayed payment agreement.