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B.C. city says issue of unused farmland could be solved with 3 tax changes

Recommendations were sent off to UBCM and the LMLGA for further consideration
Pitt Meadows city council endorsed recommendations to adjust taxation for B.C. farmland to try and help reduce the amount of farmland that is currently vacant or unused. (Black Press Media files)

Pitt Meadows city council wants to see some significant tax changes for farmland in the province to tackle what they say is an epidemic of unused farming potential.

At the Feb. 27 council meeting, agriculture and environment project manager Michelle Baski presented the collection of three taxation proposals which arose from the city’s recently adopted Agricultural Viability Strategy.

The first proposed resolution requested that the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) call upon the provincial government to create an unfarmed land tax that would be applied to any property within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) that is not being utilized for farming.

“This amendment is similar in intent as the provincial speculation and vacancy tax to turn vacant homes into housing for people in B.C.,” said Baski.

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The city also asked the UBCM to encourage the province to remove the eligibility for vacant or unused farmland to receive the school tax exemption.

As it currently stands, ALR property can receive up to a 50 per cent reduction in property tax regardless of whether it is being actively farmed or not. However, the city would like to see this changed so that any vacant or unused land within the ALR would not receive this school tax exemption.

“The intent of this resolution is to provide a financial incentive to farm or lease agricultural land as farm class would be required to receive the school tax exemption and it’s not automatically exempted just because it is in the ALR,” said Baski.

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The third and final proposal requested a change in the minimum gross income required in order for a property to receive farm classification and receive the corresponding tax benefits.

Baski explained that the current minimum requirement of $2,500 for property between two and 10 acres hasn’t been updated since 1993 and is in dire need of an increase.

City council approved the recommendation of increasing the minimum gross income to $7,000 in order to receive farm classification, and for the province to review the income requirement at least every five years.

According to Baski, this third proposal was the only one not supported by the city’s Agriculture Advisory Committee due to what she said were concerns about the impacts on smaller farming operations.

“However, the AAC did express interest in reviewing the minimum income thresholds and potentially exploring a tiered benefit system,” said Baski.

Councillor Mike Manion said he supported the increase in income requirement but had reservations about exploring a tiered tax-benefit system.

“I do not support a tiered system because I served on the property assessment review panel for quite a number of years and we were constantly having problems trying to explain what the classifications currently met,” said Manion. “So to reintroduce another tiered system, all it does is add confusion.”

Instead, he simply wanted to see the minimum requirement be increased to $7,000, which he said was a very accommodating number for the vast majority of farms.

The only reason I keep referring to that number is that’s a number I’m familiar with coming from Ontario,” he said. “There are other provinces that are actually higher than that.”

“The majority of actual farmers in Pitt Meadows, their income starts north of $1 million and they are not big farms.”

Coun. Alison Evans agreed that $7,000 seemed like a very reasonable number for B.C. farms.

“I understand the concerns that it would potentially discourage someone, but I think when you lump it in with the vacant tax, they’d be looking at leasing it [the farmland] to someone who would use it for its best use,” said Evans.

This farm classification change, along with the other two proposals, will go a long way in reducing the number of ALR properties that go unfarmed, explained Coun. Manion.

“In this day and age of inflation and the need for food security, we have to make sure that extremely valuable land like what we have here in Pitt Meadows gets farmed to its maximum ability,” said Manion.

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The three taxation proposals were approved in a 6-1 vote, with the resolutions and background documents now being sent off to the Lower Mainland Local Government Association and UBCM for their annual conventions.

Mayor Nicole MacDonald said that she had confidence in these proposals and said that they perfectly line up with the city’s 2023 Agricultural Viability Strategy.

“Council is really proud of the agricultural plan that was put together and wants to start on some of those action steps, with one being advocacy,” said MacDonald. “These three resolutions are a great approach to that.”

If approved by the LMLGA and UBCM, the resolutions will then be forwarded to the provincial government for further consideration.

The LMLGA convention will take place from May 1 to 3, with UBCM having their convention from Sept. 16 to 20.

Brandon Tucker

About the Author: Brandon Tucker

I have been a journalist since 2013, with much of my career spent covering sports and entertainment stories in Alberta.
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