Chatham-Kent farmers concerned about rural services, rising taxes

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Some country residents came to the city to let their concerns about rural services and rising taxes be known during a budget discussion.

The state of bridges and roads, plans to increase the farm tax ratio and optional cuts to rural services were among the topics discussed Thursday by more than 50 residents attending the last of three open houses on the 2013 Chatham-Kent municipal budget, held at the Active Lifestyle Centre in Chatham.

After hearing a presentation on the state of Chatham-Kent's infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges, which is facing a multi-million dollar annual deficit to maintain, long-time Tilbury-area farmer Bert Rammelaere said he realizes farm taxes will be going up.

But he added, “I'm not satisfied with the services.”

Rammelaere has little sympathy for the fact Chatham-Kent's geographical size significantly impacts the amount of roads and bridges it has to maintain.

“That's the way the cookie crumbles,” he said, noting it has always been that way.

Rammelaere said he doesn't object to paying more taxes, “but I expect the roads and bridges to be looked after.”

Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure and engineering services, said prior to amalgamation, the province provided a significant amount of money for maintaining bridges and roads. He added the province gives nothing, today, despite having downloaded responsibilities for many roads to municipalities.

“It's not fair, but that's the way it is,” he said.

Kelly said there is a $5 million annual shortfall just for maintaining roads.

“We're doing the absolute best job we can,” he said.

A proposal being recommended is to raise the farm tax ratio to 25% from 22% and allocating the nearly $1 million increase this will bring in tax revenues to rural infrastructure.

However, a change in current value assessment, due to rising farm land values, is expected to result in more than $3.4 million in taxes being levied on farm properties. This is to be phased in from 2013-16.

The average taxes paid per acre of farm land in 2012 was $12.60.

Thamesville-area farmer Bill Parks estimates with the impact of current value assessment and future needs to address infrastructure issues, that will soar to $25 per acre.

While prices paid for commodities such as corn and soybeans have risen in the past two years, Parks said due to the cyclical nature of farming, “I predict in the next two years they (commodity prices) will be a helluva lot lower . . . and the farmers will be strapped with higher taxes.”

Mike Buis, a Raleigh Township beef farmer and volunteer firefighter, is concerned about some cost-saving options put forth that could impact fire service in rural areas.

In particular he doesn't want to see council chose cuts such as closing fire halls and limiting tiered responses to medical calls and motor vehicle crashes.

“I think we get a really good value for our volunteer fire service,” he said.

Buis also doesn't believe it would be prudent to make cuts to economic development services, especially since Chatham-Kent is in need of jobs and investment.

Council will begin budget deliberations on Tuesday. A total of nine days have been allocated to drafting a budget with a minimum tax increase of 2% set as a target.

The deliberations take place from 6-10 p.m. in council chambers are open to the public.

Ellwood.shreve@sunmedia.ca

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