MINDEMOYA– The Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) has once again indicated that it does not believe the purchase of lands in their municipalities to individuals, First Nations, municipalities, or other  groups or organizations should be tax exempt. This comes after the MMA discussed a request from the United Chiefs and Councils of M’nidoo M’Nising (UCCMM).

“The First Nations on Manitoulin (UCCMM) have indicated they want any lands that they purchase anywhere in our municipalities to be tax exempt,” said Richard Stephens, mayor of Central Manitoulin at an MMA meeting last week. “My response to a letter from the UCCMM was that we (Central Manitoulin)  treat everyone the same, if you buy property in our municipality you should be expected to pay taxes like all your neighbours .”

“The letter we received from Joseph Hare, on behalf of the UCCMM, is that they disagree,” said Mr. Stephens.

In a letter to Joe Hare, Tribal Chair of the UCCM dated August 24, 2015, Mr. Stephens said, “I appreciate your long-standing dispute with the senior levels of government and truly wish that a satisfactory solution can be found and executed in as short a time frame as possible.”

“I do not, however, believe that the property owners/residents of the municipality of Central Manitoulin (or of any other municipality or township on Manitoulin Island) should bear the cost of a reduced assessment base,” wrote Mr. Stephens. “It is neither fair nor reasonable to expect one property owner to pay property taxes while his next door neighbour does not. They are both living in the same area and enjoying the same benefits and services provided to that community.”

“In an attempt to provide you with an understanding of our need for property taxes, I summarized the sources of revenue for our municipality over the past five year period,” wrote Mr. Stephens. “Revenues for that period came from property taxes (55 percent), federal/provincial grants (31 percent), user fees/rents (11.4 percent) and other sources (2.6 percent).”

“With over one half of our municipal revenues coming from property taxes, it is obvious how important this revenue source is to the well being of our municipality,” continued Mr. Stephens. “Property taxes are a vital part of how we finance our operating and capital costs in Central Manitoulin. Accordingly, I must respectfully decline your request to exempt any specific property owner in the municipality of Central Manitoulin (individual, group, association or company) from paying their normally assessed property taxes on this due date.”

In reply in a letter dated September 9, 2015, Chief Hare wrote, “the United Chiefs and Councils of M’nidoo Mnising have received your letter dated August 26, 2015. We are writing to you to clarify elements of our original letter. We would like to communicate why this issue of taxation is so important. The few parcels of land on Manitoulin Island that our First nations have been able to purchase in recent years  are not lands we should even have had to purchase.”

“The documents signed in 1862, which our forefathers were forced to sign after the Crown broke its promise to us, resulted in theft by the Crown of our lands,” wrote Chief Hare. “We have been able to buy some parcels back in recent years, as market values which benefits your municipality, but we are having to buy back our stolen land. To then have taxes levied on these lands adds insult to injury.”

“As First Nations, we fully understand the challenges of operating with small budgets,” wrote Chief Hare. “We would encourage you to consider the small effect on your municipality of not  taking action on these few properties. It is also important to remember that the ability to levy taxes on lands held in trust for First Nations is a recent development in this province. Municipalities were able to function effectively without taxes from those few parcels for many years prior to unilateral legislative changes made by the Harris government in 1997.”

Chief Hare added, “we are not asking for a tax exemption. We are asking you to do what is within your power, not taking steps to sell lands or engaging bill collectors to collect unpaid property taxes. The request is being made to seek to avoid fraying relationships amongst our First Nations and the municipalities. If your municipality still insists in efforts to collect property taxes from our stolen lands, we will  be left with no choice but to pursue other options if necessary to protect our rights to pay taxes on these lands.”

“This issue has come up more on Manitoulin Island because of the UCCMM 1990 land claim which has never received Royal Assent,” said Al MacNevin, of the town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands. “ I think we received the same letter as Central Manitoulin. They have asked for the same thing. They (UCCMM) are not looking for tax exemptions but for us not to collect taxes

on these lands.”

“Since 1998 for purchases of property in our municipalities, that the UCCMM hold trust on they don’t want or feel they should be paying the taxes on these properties,” said Mr. MacNiven. “And each time they have purchased property in a municipality since then the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has paid these taxes.”

“I know of at least three times the government has paid the taxes on lands purchased in our municipality,” said Austin Hunt, mayor of Billings.

It is a  unique issue to Manitoulin Island because it is part of the 1990 land claim, said MMA Chair Ken Noland.

And that agreement hasn’t been ratified as of yet, pointed out Mr. Stephens.

“It’s the same as groups like the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) that purchase property in a municipality and it becomes tax exempt,” said Mr. Noland.

Mr. Stephens suggested the MMA could consider a motion reiterating once again that lands purchased within a municipality by the UCCMM, municipalities or any other groups or individuals not be tax exempt.

“It gives an indication that we are all together on this issue,” said Mr. Stephens. “The end result should be if you buy any property within a municipality you are responsible for paying the taxes on it.” The MMA members agreed to pass a motion to this effect.