Where to go with assessments
Agency’s CEO talks reform at joint council meeting
I think there’ll be some think pieces (to) come out, but ultimately I don’t think property tax is going away for municipalities. Sean Martin
The Municipal Assessment Agency’s CEO Sean Martin totally understands people are not necessarily enamored with the work assessors do when visiting homes in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I’ve had some wonderful discussions with people … I’m being polite when I say discussions,” Martin said last Thursday as a few chuckles came from the audience at last Thurs- day’s meeting of the Conception Bay North Joint Council in South River. Before he became the guy in charge, Martin spent time on the road visiting homes.
“There’s always a challenge when we’re doing these things.”
The latest assessments for homes across the province were released last fall, with average residential values up 23 per cent (excluding St. John’s, where city staff handle assessments internally).
In the throne speech this year, the new Liberal government committed to a review of the 2006 Assessment Act. At Thursday’s meeting, Martin discussed the MAA’s work and reforms government might consider.
Brigus town manager Wayne Rose brought up how residents perceive property tax compared to other yearly items they pay for.
“We are the only billing system that will bill once or maybe twice a year. Everybody gets that bill, be it $1,200 or $1,500 — it’s a big chunk of change to get the one time when you see it coming. But if they look at their light bill or cable bill or all these other ones … if they got that once a year like they did with their municipality bill, they’d be shocked. This is why I think sometimes they’re so vocal in what they’re doing because it’s hitting them the one time for that year.”
No property tax?
Arguments have been made government could consider scrapping property tax and instead dedicate additional income tax to supporting municipal services. Martin admits this is an option, though he does not believe the province will go in that direction.
“I think there’ll be some think pieces (to) come out, but ultimately I don’t think property tax is going away for municipalities,” he said. “But there are things even within the system we can do better. That said, if government decides it’s going away, I go away too.”
Among the internal ways Martin suggests the municipal assessment process could improve is by phasing in changes to the assessed value. For example, an annual assessment could be made, but it would be averaged over three years.
“So your property was $100,000 the first year, $110,00 the second year, $120,000 the third year — your assessment would be ($110,000), the average of the three … It sounds OK when values are going up. I’m not so sure what happens if people’s values are going down, if they’re going to like that they didn’t get the drop all at once. So it’ something to think about, but it is an idea that I think might help take some of the edge off of this.”
Martin also believes there could be ways to improve the appeals process.
“We have it there now. To be quite honest, it’s not a bad process, but I would look at, for example, we have a 30-day appeal period. There’s no reason that it couldn’t be longer or it couldn’t be in a better time of the year.”
Ideally, Martin would like residents to be able to readily access all the information MAA collects to help confirm whether its accurate or whether there are details missing or mistaken.
Municipal Assessment Agency CEO Sean Martin was a guest speaker at last Thursday’s Conception Bay North Joint Council meeting in South River.