B.C. farm assessment panel co-chair replaced

About six months into its 18-month assignment, British Columbia’s Farm Assessment Review Panel has replaced its co-chair.

Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom, who was named in February as the panel’s co-chair along with Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, resigned from the panel after he was named the province’s new community development minister in last month’s cabinet shuffle.

Rick Thorpe, the MLA for Okanagan-Westside, will replace Lekstrom on the panel. “I look forward to visiting the agricultural communities and listening to their ideas, concerns and possible solutions,” Thorpe said in a release Tuesday.

Thorpe, an accountant with a background in the brewing and Okanagan grape and wine industries, was previously the provincial minister for small business and revenue but was shuffled out of cabinet last month.

The panel was formally launched in February amid controversy in Saanich over a reassessment of farm properties that reclassified many as partly residential — thus taxing them at a higher rate than strictly “farm” property.

The panel’s role is to hold a “provincewide, comprehensive review of farm assessment regulations in order to streamline rules and procedures, while ensuring their fairness and transparency.”

The panel in June made a few interim recommendations, including suspension of any further large-scale farm classification projects by BC Assessment until the panel’s report is received and decisions are made.

The panel’s final report and recommendations to the province on what constitutes a “farm” for municipal tax purposes are due at the end of July 2009, for consideration in the 2010 assessment roll.

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