By: Mike Anderson
Georgina Island cottagers are balking at paying new property taxes levied on their leased properties by the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation (GIFN), calling them “excessive” and “unfair.”
In 2018, GIFN hired the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) to conduct property inspections and assessments on the island’s 188 seasonal cottages, a precursor to levying its first-ever property tax on leaseholders.
GIFN argues that it can no longer subsidize the cost of services — including emergency services, garbage collection and road maintenance — for island cottagers and needs the revenue from a property tax scheme.
Since 1972, island cottagers who either leased the land directly from the band or a band member, haven’t paid a property tax. Instead, they pay an annual lease, plus a fee for services. Currently, that service fee is $750 per lease.
Now, GIFN wants to convert that service fee into a property tax, based on MPAC assessments, and phase it in over four years.
For example, an island cottage assessed by MPAC in 2018 for $566,00 would pay a property tax of $2,780 in 2019. But that tax would climb to $6,056 in 2022. That represents a 700 per cent increase over the original service fee.
According to Rick May, president of the Georgina Island Cottage Association (GICA), while most leaseholders are willing to pay a property tax, the proposed tax is too high.
“It’s not that we don’t want to pay taxes,” says Mr. May. “We do want to pay taxes, but we want them to be fair taxes.”
Mr. May also argues that the new tax is “undemocratic” because leaseholders don’t have a say in how their tax dollars will be spent. While he says the Band Council has shared its annual budget for review, leaseholders were told band expenditures could not be changed.
Mr. May would also like to see greater transparency surrounding the federal grants the Band Council receives for services, like the Aazhaawe ferry.
“We believe in democracy. We don’t believe in taxation without representation. We don’t believe in those concepts,” he adds.
While some cottagers want more input in the Band Council’s budget process, others are more worried that high property taxes will force them to sell.
“I loved having a cottage there until this property tax issue came along last summer. It’s dramatically increased the cost of the cottage to the point where we’re not sure if we can even keep it anymore,” says one island cottager, who prefers to remain anonymous. “My husband and I are retired, so it makes it almost impossible to afford,” she adds.
While cottagers could opt to sell their cottages, rather than pay the new property tax,
they might be facing a softer market for their properties.
Mr. May, who’s also a real estate agent, says that the added stigma of a new property tax is impacting demand for island cottages.
Mr. May says for one recent listing he sent out more than a hundred information kits to potential buyers. However, not a single showing was booked. Caught between a rock and a hard place, GICA launched an appeal with the GIFN Assessment Review Board (ARB) on August 28.
During the appeal, legal counsel representing the cottage association argued that MPAC assessments should be reduced because it incorrectly assessed island cottages against “off-reserve” properties on the mainland, rather than against similar properties on the island.
The MPAC lawyer argued that GIFN’s assessment law, FNs taxation practices, and legal precedents, allow the current MPAC assessments to stand, and the cottage association’s appeal had no legal merit.
A ruling is expected by September 19. However, Mr. May says that his members are prepared to appeal their case to the Ontario District Court
if the Board rules against their appeal.