Farmland making up a large percentage of its tax base, Wellesley will be receiving an extra $100,000 next year from the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF).
Announced at the last council meeting of the year on Dec. 22, the increase will come from the Farmland Tax Reduction Program. More than 90 per cent of Wellesley land is classified as farmland, warranting more money through a redesign of the provincial program. The payment will increase to $576,700 – a bump of $104,600 from what the township got in 2015.
The fund provides an annual unconditional transfer payment to municipalities in the province. More funding gets allocated to municipalities with higher percentages of farmland, which is taxed at the lowest rates.
Treasurer Theresa Bisch let council know how important this was to the township and its residents.
“It is really detrimental to our tax base to subsidize the farmland,” she told council. “It is nice to see that they are finally recognizing that. It is definitely a big help to us.”
Mayor Joe Nowak expressed concerns about whether this was a one-time bump, or if the $100,000 increase was going to hold for future payments.
“I thought they were winding this program down?” he asked.
Bisch assured him that it was a different program – the transition payments to municipalities – that was winding down and barring any provincial restructuring the Farmland Tax Reduction Program won’t be going anywhere.
“Luckily for this township, we never received transition payments, so it didn’t affect us like others that were depending on it,” she said, mentioning that the payment the municipality qualifies for had been lowered in the past. “We got our payment reduced, but this has brought it back up. I am not sure that it will continue at the same level, because it is the province and programs change. You think you are counting on it, but I never count on that.”
The future of the payments, the program’s criteria and the potential that development could affect the amount received all raised questions from Coun. Peter van der Maas
“In the event that things do continue as they are, would more building increase our payments?” he asked.
Bisch assured him that as long as future building didn’t encroach on farmland, the payments would continue, and may even increase with more homes.
“To a point,” she said. “You would have to watch that you are not building on farmland. It is a comparison of the farmland to overall land. As long as it is in the farmland class, we are getting the farmland reduction program. If it is getting farmed, and the farmer is getting the land for a reduced rate, it is considered farmland.”
Nowak reminded his colleagues that the increased payment didn’t come without some passionate lobbying by former Wellesley Township mayor Ross Kelterborn.
“The previous mayor fought long and hard for this, for years and years and years,” he told councillors. “The province turned a deaf ear to him for a long time, so I have asked staff to make him aware of this. I talked to him about it and he seemed quite excited. Every minister he talked to, this was the first thing that he talked about. Obviously somebody listened.”
The next Wellesley Township council meeting, the first of 2016, is on Jan. 5 at 6:45 p.m.