MMA requests meeting with MNR to discuss tax exempt land concerns

MINDEMOYA—The Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) agrees its concerns with tax exempt properties purchased and designated as conservation land (which in turn takes these lands off the municipal tax rolls) is an issue that the group needs to discuss with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).

Peter Fortin, municipal relations representative for the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), told the MMA at a meeting last week, “there are three parties involved in assessment: the province, which puts in place legislation through the assessment act which guides us; MPAC, which administers the assessments and classify properties; and municipalities, which sets the tax rates.”

Mr. Fortin outlined that, “specifically on exemptions, section three of the assessment act deals with properties that are exempt: municipalities, properties, schools, federal and provincial properties. The other section deals with exemptions of conservation lands and spells out what land is eligible for tax exempt status, such as significant wetlands, areas of natural scientific importance, habitat and Niagara escarpment.”

Conservation land means land that is eligible conservation land under the regulation, for instance if it satisfies the subsection of the act, and is maintained in a manner that contributes to the natural heritage and the biodiversity objectives for conserving the land. For the purposes of clause (1) (a), the land satisfies the requirements of this subsection if it satisfies one of the following conditions: The land is identified by the MNR as provincially significant wetland on the basis of the wetland evaluation system set out in the MNR document entitled ‘Ontario Wetland Evaluation System Southern Manual or the Ontario Wetland Evaluation System Northern Manual.’ The land is identified by the MNR as a provincially significant area of natural and scientific interest using the criteria set out in the MNR documents or is identified by the MNR as habitat of a species that is listed as an endangered species, or the land is designated as an escarpment natural areas in the Niagara Escarpment Plan.

As well, there are 11 conditions that have to be met to become tax exempt, if they are owned by a registered charity.

Mr. Fortin went on to explain, “land is eligible conservation land for a taxation year if the following requirements are met: one, the land is eligible under section 25 to be classified as eligible conservation land for the taxation year; the owner submits a completed application to the MNR for designation of the land under this section for the taxation year and the application is submitted prior to deadline dates.”

“Once all criteria is met, the MNR designates lands as exempt, as long as the owner does not breach a list of undertakings, and once the criteria is met we carry on assessments,” said Mr. Fortin.

“I don’t think our beef on this issue is with these guys (MPAC),” said Paul Skippen. “It is with the MNR. Look at the lands that have been purchased by groups like the NCC (Nature Conservancy of Canada) on Western Manitoulin or Strawberry Island and the effects it has had in terms of tax exempt properties within the municipalities.”

“And it’s not just the property that is given designation as tax exempt that is a problem,” said Mr. Ham. He pointed out it affects neighbouring properties as well.

Mr. Brown said, “the MNR can take a property and designate it as a potential natural park area, with no consultation with municipalities or the planning board. This is definitely not a fair way to do business. These groups come in and purchase property and then hand it over to the MNR, who make it hard for anyone to get on property, and close lands that are then given tax exempt status and taken off our municipal tax rolls, which we can’t afford.”

“I’m certainly disappointed when a group purchases property that is now tax exempt and comes to my door and tell me I have to pay the taxes on this property,” said Paul Skippen. “And this type of thing has been happening. So you have an old woman down the street who can’t afford to pay more taxes because groups that have millions of dollars at their disposal purchase property and have it turned tax exempt. It’s disgusting.”

“We need to have the MNR in front of us to talk about this,” said Mr. Ham, to which the MMA members agreed.

It was further suggested by Mr. Skippen the MMA could ask to make a delegation to the Minister of Natural Resources at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual general meeting next month.

 Tom Sasvari