Municipalities to take tax exempt lands issue to provincial officials

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

GORE BAY—A senior planner with the MMM Group Limited says the issue raised by Burpee Mills and other municipalities regarding the loss of the tax base to tax exempt lands is not an issue for the Manitoulin Planning Board or for the new Official Plan being carried out for the Manitoulin District. Instead, municipalities need to address this concern with the province, and look at implementing their own zoning bylaws on this issue.

“We have received a couple of letters on the loss of tax for municipalities when lands are deemed tax exempt,” said Elva Carter, secretary of the planning board at a meeting with Greg Bender last week.

“In terms of how to proceed with this, it more a municipal issue because it is dealing with taxes,” Mr. Bender told the board. “I don’t think this is something the planning board would be involved in, or the Official Plan would deal with.”

Ms. Carter had told the meeting that letters had been received from representatives of Burpee Mills and Cockburn Island about lands being purchased by conservation groups, turned into parkland and municipalities suffering the loss of taxes when these lands become tax exempt.

“The Official Plan will not deal with issues of taxes or impacts on the loss of taxes on lands, but I’m not suggesting nothing can be done,” said Mr. Bender. He said this should be a discussion of municipalities with the provincial government, and looking at individual municipalities or on an Island-wide basis looking at implementing zoning bylaws in regards to these types of lands being purchased.

“If municipalities don’t have the last say, perhaps this should be taken to the ministry,” suggested board member Jack McQuarrie. In his letter to the planning board, he asked, “What lands in the Manitoulin District have to date been taken out of private ownership and are under the ownership of a group, organization or either the provincial or federal government? And what is the total land acreage of the total district?”

“Some of these lands have been identified by the fact that they are not required to pay these taxes now, being tax (municipal or educational) exempt,” wrote Mr. McQuarrie. “However, there are other lands that have been acquired on both Manitoulin and Cockburn Islands that, while they are not as yet tax exempt, they do pose the threat of being exempt in the future and thereby undermining the very structure of a solvent municipality.”

“The question was asked at the open session of the presentations, but it was discussed further in greater detail following the session and I feel that it must be addressed in full detail prior to another Official Plan being adopted for the Manitoulin District,” wrote Mr. McQuarrie. “I believe that this could pose a rather complex task, however, it is time that all government departments, provincial, federal, First Nations or nature conservancies, or any other organization that has taken lands out of private ownership, must be required to identify each and every parcel of land that they have acquired to date. This may take a court order, but before we can move forward with an honest and fair Official Plan for the Manitoulin District we need to have all the necessary information on the table so the planning board will be well aware of what category all lands fall under.”

Wayne Bailey, a councillor of Burpee Mills, in his letter said the “two solutions that would rectify this unfair burden to our municipal ratepayers. Firstly, since protection of wildlife habitat is for the benefit and enjoyment of all, and the province has established this as a provincial objective, the province must be prepared to make payments in lieu of the lost municipal assessment base resulting from the province’s tax exempt designation of conservancy lands. A precedent has been established for this practice. The province provides an annual grant of approximately $26,000 to Burpee Mills as commercial payment in lieu of tax loss on the 2,124 acre tract of Misery Bay Provincial Park.”

Secondly, Mr. Bailey said the province, “must be encouraged to cap the percent of each municipality’s tax exempt properties to protect any given municipality’s ability to adequately service personal, agricultural and other business needs of the community. Both you and the province are ultimately responsible for safeguarding the rights of Manitoulin residents to enjoy a sustainable, affordable, and healthy lifestyle.” The Planning Board, “should be deciding, now, the total amount of each municipal land that can be designated tax exempt without jeopardizing the financial sustainability of each municipality. Your careful planning and recommendations to the province will be critical to the survival of our communities on Manitoulin Island.”

“This is a discussion that should be held among your municipalities, and to approach the province on your concerns,” said Mr. Bender.

Lyle Addison pointing out the Nature Conservancy of Canada has purchased over 15,000 acres of land in Robinson-Dawson and turned it over to the MNR, and these lands are tax exempt. It was further pointed out this is similar to properties on Strawberry Island and Misery Bay.

Gary Brown pointed out a total of 700 acres of property in Tehkummah has been lost in terms of being taxable by the municipality. He pointed out that things like ambulance services and costs have been downloaded on municipalities, and these costs are not decreasing.

Mr. Addison said Robinson and Dawson townships, “were promised we would get funds in lieu of taxes from the province, as far back as 2004 but we haven’t got anything thus far.”

“We need to have discussions with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on this issue,” said Mr. Brown. “If the lands are going to be purchased and become tax exempt, compensation has to be provided to the municipalities.”

“If help isn’t provided to municipalities they will eventually become solvent,” said Mr. McQuarrie. “I like Gary’s suggestion to meet with the MMAH, can we do that, before the (official) plan goes too much further.”