HALIBURTON -- Snowmobilers may not be able to travel along groomed trails between Muskoka and Bancroft for the next few weeks. Private landowners in Haliburton County threw up blockades yesterday at snowmobile trails on their properties to protest new tax assessment spikes as high as 1,000 per cent.
Posts were driven into the ground, trees were placed across the trails and signs were posted that the trails were closed.
The closure is unrelated to warnings issued last week by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs that it may be forced to close half of its 44,000 kilometres of trails next year due to $4 million in new liability insurance costs.
Haliburton property owners pledged to keep trails closed to disrupt a provincial trail system until the Ontario government answers their complaints they can't afford the tax hikes.
Roughly 30 landowners who belong to the Haliburton Forest Owners Association claim their property values have jumped beyond reason contrary to promises by the Ontario government their land would be assessed the same as farmland.
Farmland is assessed at one-quarter of the value of residential assessment under provincial legislation governing how the tax burden is shared in Ontario.
Peter Schleifenbaum, managing director of the Haliburton property owners group, said the association has been betrayed by the province, which guaranteed lower assessment rates for owners if they adhered to conditions of the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program.
"The government is going back on its word," Schleifenbaum said.
"We made an agreement based on a promise our land would be treated as farmland. Then, MPAC decided to change that quietly."
Schleifenbaum said the revolt by the Haliburton property owners could escalate to similar actions by 10,000 other property owners.
Such an action could close snowmobile trails all across the province and could devastate the $1-billion snowmobile tourism industry.
However, a senior official with the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation said his agency never made any deal and the increases are overdue adjustments to bring the forested properties up to current market value.