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Taxation and ag issues debated by delegates

At SARM mid-term convention:

Two resolutions from the RM of Weyburn regarding the taxation of the Weyburn Golf Course property were passed by the delegates of the SARM (Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities) mid-term convention held in Saskatoon.

The resolutions are asking that SARM lobby the provincial government to first place recreational properties (like the golf course) into a new tax class, and secondly that RMs be allowed to use tax tools to deal with property class issues when they come up, just as urban municipalities are allowed to do.

Up until now, the RM has been unable to grant a tax exemption to the Weyburn Golf Course, or to use any kind of tax tool on their property, which puts the golf course at an unfair advantage compared to other golf courses in the region which do not have to pay any property taxes.

Reeve Carmen Sterling said there wasn't a lot of debate on the resolutions, including a couple other similar ones from other areas, and the delegates just went ahead and approved them.

A resolution on terms of office for RM councillors was defeated. Reeve Sterling said it would've sent a mixed message to the government, after SARM passed a resolution at their annual convention last March supporting changing terms of office from two to four years, with staggered elections to be maintained as it is now (each election year, only even or odd-numbered divisions have a vote).

The reeve noted the province got on that resolution right away, and the wheels are now in motion to change the term lengths so it matches term lengths for urban municipalities. "This was asking for the terms to be turned back to two years," she said.

A resolution from the RM of Francis was passed, which is asking for SARM to lobby the government to grant a tax exemption for grain elevators that are owned by farmers and used for grain storage. The argument went that other grain bins for storage are not taxed, so an elevator used for grain storage shouldn't be taxed either. The example was given of an elevator at Sedley which is owned by a farmer for grain storage.

A resolution asking for a relaxation of regulations for farmers hauling hay, similar to what is now allowed in Alberta, was defeated by the delegates in a vote that was nearly split even amongst the delegates; by her count, Reeve Sterling said the vote was 164-168.

Reeve Sterling noted that Agriculture minister Bob Bjornerud was on hand and presented information on some new initiatives from the government, including a new feed-and-forage program, to assist livestock producers hit by the excessive moisture this year, and a new provincial hopper car program, which will make the province's grain hopper cars available to the shortline railways on a priority basis before making them available to CN and CP Rail.

As chair of SARM's rat eradication program, Reeve Sterling presented an update on where the program is at. She noted that applications are coming in to the program, which has a deadline of Feb. 15, 2011.

"We've always had a strong interest in making sure the pest control officer can get out to as many properties as possible, and he goes back to the ones he considers hot spots and focusses his efforts on them," said Reeve Sterling of how her RM handles rat control.

So far, as of Sept. 21, 34 RMs have sent in applications, indicating infestations ranging from zero up to 43 per cent, with most indicating an infestation level of five per cent or less. Requirements to obtain a grant for rat control include the RM employing a pest control officer who is registered, and who completes 100 per cent of the inspections of properties in the RM and files the proper paperwork as a result.

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