Farm tax rate under fire

Spallumcheen’s former mayor is concerned the township’s farmers are being treated unfairly.

Spallumcheen’s former mayor is concerned the township’s farmers are being treated unfairly.

Will Hansma questioned the current council at the end of its regular meeting Monday, a meeting that saw council approve its tax rate bylaw for 2014.

The bylaw includes seeing the farm class rate (Class 9) jump from 5.1531, based on per $1,000 of assessment, in 2013 to 11.179 in 2014.

“Technically, that’s more than double the assessment,” said Hansma.

“If farming truly does come first (township motto), that is a significant increase to farmers. I’m hoping it’s properly explained.”

Hansma had been hoping for an amendment to the bylaw, or perhaps the number was actually a typo.

Chief financial officer Brian Freeman-Marsh confirmed the rate was accurate and explained the increase in the rate on farm class was to counteract the effects of provincial Bill 8, introduced in 2013, in which farmers enjoyed $120,000 of tax relief in 2013 that everybody else paid for.

Class 9 is land only and if a resident has Class 9 land and has buildings that are being used on the farm, B.C. Assessment would classify the buildings as Class 1 residential.

Prior to Bill 8, if a resident had farm and out buildings in the operation of Class 9 land, farmers were given an assessment exemption to a maximum of $50,000.

Bill 8 did away with the flat rate of $50,000, going, instead, to a rate that was either going to be the greater number of up to $50,000 or 87.5 per cent of the exemption.

Bill 8 cost the township more than $120,000 in farm tax revenue.

“The effects of Bill 8 on Spallumcheen impacted us by five per cent while some municipalities were only impacted by .5 per cent,” said Coun. Christine Fraser.

“It was a huge amount on the big farms that we lost in revenue. The increase was the only way to make things remotely fair.”

Fraser agreed with Hansma that the tax rate increase will affect smaller farms in the township, but said council has had discussions with the farmers.

“When I personally asked if the tax rate was going to make an impact, they said it wasn’t going to break the bank,” said Fraser.

“They said, ‘if we can’t make it at $350 (former assessment), we can’t make it at $550 (after 2014 hike). It was by far the fairest way that we could fix the problem without having a big impact.”

Coun. Todd York added that the township’s agricultural advisory committee recommended the hike as opposed to recovering the revenue through development cost charges.

Hansma told Spallumcheen council the tax rate increase “will have more of an impact than you think.”