Or maybe more accurately: Surplus Farmhouse Severances and/or Village Boundary Expansions.
I think it’s time to talk seriously about the issue of surplus farmhouse severances in Zorra Township and Oxford County: we lose too many family homes, and then families, to this issue.
If you are not familiar, this is what usually happens:
A farmer buys an additional farm, but doesn’t need the house on it. For a short time they rent it out, but eventually it needs a major repair, or has a bad tenant, or (quite reasonably) the farmer decides they don’t want to be a landlord. So the house comes down.
As we lose these houses we lose our tax base, and our ability to provide services to ourselves, without corresponding property tax increases. We lose families. We lose people who have lived here for decades and contributed, and continue to contribute, to our community. Senior’s are forced to “move into town” at exactly the time of their life when they could be helping to look after their grandchildren (currently “Canadian families spend almost one-quarter of their income on child care”), and when they could be getting care and help from their children late in their own life (“The number of Canadian seniors requiring continuing care will rise by 71 per cent by 2026”). That’s not right.
As our population remains static we also lose the justification (rightly or wrongly) under current funding formulas for the Provincial government to provide us with services: like emergency rooms and schools. That’s not right.
Rural areas are protecting our farmland from our own development, but urban areas (including Oxford’s own communities of Ingersoll and Woodstock) are asking to annex rural land from neighbouring municipalities to expand their own “growth areas” (http://www.heartfm.ca/news/local-news/county-considers-land-deals/). As a result of our protection of farmland, we have a reducing tax base and correspondingly reduced ability to provide services to ourselves and fund our own development. Other branches of government like school boards are then also encouraged (by current Provincial policies) to only support schools in the “growth areas”, and not in our existing rural communities.
I’m not talking about developing Prime Agricultural Land into subdivisions, I have voted, and will continue to vote against that; but we can’t keep up the cycle of surplus homes being rented for a few years and then torn down. We need a balance that allows and encourages families to stay in rural communities like Zorra that they want to stay in, and start businesses here, and send their kids to school here, like they always have.
I know a common argument is that “city people” will move to the country and complain of farm noises, smells, etc., but I’ve talked with Township staff and the complaints just aren’t there. And if the complaints do come, I think there is a straightforward answer: don’t move to Zorra if you don’t like farms, that’s what Zorra is about. We need to be crystal clear that the “right to farm” is important in Zorra (http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/facts/05-013.htm). When I campaigned I made it clear that “nobody better ever call me to complain about the smell of manure”.
Rural people deserve a sustainable tax base, with associated services. Rural is different from, not inferior to, suburban/urban. We need to stop ‘worshiping at the alter’ of urban/suburban growth. Farmers should’t be penalized with less education and health services for protecting the land that feeds Ontarians. That’s not right.
It’s not right, but to some extent it is in our control. We need to find a better balance between protecting farm land and keeping families living in our community. Maybe it’s surplus farmhouse severances, maybe it’s expanding village boundaries, but we need to change something. If we don’t use the tools at our disposal, someone else will, and our opportunity to affect the outcome and have some control over our own future will be taken by others.
It would be a shame if through protecting our farmland we denied ourselves services, only to have another municipality annex hundreds of acres of the same farmland to support their own growth.
Tell me what you think.
Here are some links to news stories: