Ontario should eliminate assessments on First Nations land acquistions

A new 2012 calendar on the wall and already lots of upcoming meetings and events are penciled in. Thus it goes.

The attempts for the seven Manitoulin First Nations communities and the province of Ontario to finalize the 1990 land claim agreement drags on with, most recently, the Manitoulin Municipal Association promising to lobby some MPPs, making them aware of their concerns.

Preeminent among these concerns is the fear that lands within any municipality when they are purchased by a First Nation government may ultimately cost the municipality the tax revenues that are associated with these properties.

So far, the Ontario government has been paying the municipalities more or less the amount of taxes that have been lost when these properties have come under First Nations ownership.

There is no guarantee that the province has any interest in maintaining this arrangement in the long term so this is one area that any MPPs lobbied will hear about.

But an abiding concern is the fact that even though properties have been purchased by First Nation communities, they are still considered as a part of their particular municipality for assessment purposes.

In the scheme of things, a land value is affixed to them and irrespective of whether or not taxes are paid, the assessed value of these lands constitutes a portion of the total municipal land assessment used to determine the municipal mill rate.

This also means that when the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board sets out to calculate each municipality’s share of the cost of ambulance services, social housing and social assistance, these lands held by First Nations communities, and their assessments, are included in the calculation without any ongoing guarantee of offsetting tax revenues.

The same thing applies to the calculation of a municipality’s policing costs and school board taxes.

By way of a good start to this New Year, how much simpler and more amicable the discussions on the topic would be if any lands within municipalities that have come under First Nation ownership are simply dropped from the tax rolls, for all purposes.

This would mean that the municipalities would not have any claim on tax revenue.

But perhaps more importantly it would mean that when the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board sets out to calculate its budget, these properties are simply not part of the municipal assessment. So while there is potentially no tax revenue, neither will there be any financial burden associated with policing, school support, ambulance services, social housing and social assistance.

It is certainly within the gift of the Ontario government to grant this kind of exemption under these very particular circumstances and, in the interest of maintaining good community relations, Ontario should offer this as quickly as possible in this New Year.