Where to go with as­sess­ments

Agency’s CEO talks re­form at joint coun­cil meet­ing

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON

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.

ANDREW ROBIN­SON/THE COM­PASS

Mu­nic­i­pal As­sess­ment Agency CEO Sean Martin was a guest speaker at last Thurs­day’s Con­cep­tion Bay North Joint Coun­cil meet­ing in South River.

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