MPAC changes to farm class cause some confusion

Eganville – Changes to the Farm Forestry Exemption (FFE) made by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) have resulted in some 194 Bonnechere Valley taxpayers seeing a new tax bill issued, even though for the vast majority the bill is in the form of a credit or a statement showing they owe less money than they thought.

“We had just under 200 processed and only 15 people owed more money,” Deputy CAO Sandra Barr explained.

The new bill – which has either a credit or a balance owing – arrived in most mailboxes late last week. It is not something the township has done on its own accord but rather due to legislative change at the provincial level. The change increased the acreage maximum from 20 to 30 acres. Mrs. Barr explained MPAC issued Special Amended Property Assessment Notices for properties eligible for the change in March of this year. However, the change has just been processed now and since tax bills were sent out earlier in the year, the arrival of new tax bills for some property owners did create a bit of confusion for some ratepayers.

One of the reasons for the confusion might be the terminology in the tax bill and the upper right-hand corner where it states, “write off.” In this case, the term is not the same as what is used in other instances, she explained.

“The system calls it a write off,” she explained. “It is really a reduction.”

Mrs. Barr noted with the 194 bills sent out, each bill was different and each situation is different. Since the township bills quarterly, some people will still have a portion of the tax bill owing for October, but it might be either a tad more or a tad less than the previous bill. Others have already paid the full amount and will have a credit. If people have sent post-dated cheques, those cheques can still be cashed and if there is a credit amount, it will be visible next year on the tax bill. If there is an extra amount owing, it is owning by October 31.

The issue was brought up at a committee meeting of council last Tuesday and Mrs. Barr said although the legislation mandated it be dealt with in 2023, ideally the issue could have been left until next year since the majority of the property owners would find they owed less money and if they had paid already there would be a tax credit on their account, she said. It was also a time-consuming exercise.

“I manually processed almost 200 property tax adjustment bills,” she said. “Most of these changes were small credits from 31 cents to the biggest one was, I think, $121.”

The increases were from 31 cents to about $8.

“It was a lot of work for a very little bit,” she said.

Although these changes had to be mailed out, she predicted it would cause some consternation when the cost of the postage and staff time far exceeded the amount of the credit, change or refund.

“Some taxpayers might be upset at the small amount,” she said.

“Mailing out for 31 cents, yes,” Mayor Jennifer Murphy agreed.

However, it was a legislative change, so the property owners had to be notified, Mrs. Barr said.

The change is in how the properties were assessed, she explained.

“A lot of residential, a lot of farm, so if you have acreage you might have gotten a reduction,” she said. “But they have added an exempt portion.”

“So, the fine people at MPAC are working,” the mayor said. “They are jut not allowed to assess.”

“My recommendation would have been to wait and phase it in in 2024,” Mrs. Barr said, noting the provcine had other ideas.

Council agreed the bills had to be sent out, noting it was part of provincial legislation and noting there would be little financial return involved with the cost of time and even postage. There was also the cost involved to the township in processing the tax bills which needed to be pulled out of the system. This process took about four days, Mrs. Barr told the Leader.

“It is the same amount of work if it is 20 cents or $3,000,” she said.

Mrs. Barr has been doing tax bills since 2006 and said she had never had so many “write offs” or reductions. This was solely due to provincial legislation and MPAC property changes.

In a letter sent to taxpayers, they were encouraged to call the office with questions. She had received several calls by press time with the vast majority being very civil, but not all.

The change has also cost BV more than just extra time she spent making the changes.

“It cost about $1,000 in what we lost in taxes,” she said.

BV would not be the only township affected by this change. Any township affected by Farm Forestry Exemptions would have also seen changes requiring new bills to be sent out

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader