UCCMM requests property tax exclusion

So far, Northeast Town has officially declined

MANITOULIN —The United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising have formally requested that Island municipalities refrain from collecting property taxes on properties held in trust for or by UCCMM First Nations within their municipalities.

“As tribal chair of the UCCMM I am writing to you about the important matter of real property taxes for properties held in trust for or directly by the UCCMM First Nations within your municipality,” wrote Tribal Chair Joe Hare in a letter addressed to several Island municipalities. UCCMM is urging your municipality not to undertake any proceedings to collect real property taxes on these properties, whether through bill collection agencies or through sales for unpaid tax arrears.”

Although this request states, “your municipality is not required to sell lands or engage bill collectors to collect unpaid property taxes,” Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin explained that they, along with other Island municipalities with UCCMM First Nations property within their boundaries, such as Assiginack and Billings, have little choice.

“MPAC (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) prepares a list of all the properties in our municipality and their assessment of each for tax purposes,” explained Mayor MacNevin. “Since 1997, when the government eliminated the legislative tax exemption for lands held in trust for bands or by First Nations, we have had no choice but to include these properties in our tax collection process. We don’t differentiate unless a property is exempted.  We can’t decide to tax some properties and not others—we have to follow the Municipal Act.”

“Ever since it was signed (the 1990 Agreement), we have been trying to fix many errors that go to the fundamental validity of the so-called 1990 Agreement,” Chief Hare further states in his letter. “Once those errors are fixed, the revised 1990 Agreement would resolve long-standing uncertainty associated with these unsold lands. One of the fundamental errors that needs to be fixed is the changes made to the property tax regime in Ontario in 1997 by the Progressive Conservative government under then Premier Harris.”

“It had been a fundamental underpinning of the 1990 Agreement that lands purchased and held in trust for the First Nations on the three islands would be exempt from property and schools tax,” claims Chief Hare. “Had there been any thought in 1990 that such taxes might ever be levied, the parties would have addressed this possibility. The possible levying of property taxes on lands held in trust for the First Nations was a deal breaker in 1990. In 1990, the Assessment Act provided that lands held for bands or bodies of Indians were exempt from property taxes. However, in 1997, to our complete shock, the Harris government, without any consultation with us, eliminated that legislative tax exemption.”

“In recent years the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has come forward and paid the taxes on these properties when it gets to the point after three years (of not paying taxes), but until the legislation changes we don’t have the power to exempt the properties,” Mayor MacNevin concluded.