Law­suit will linger on

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - FRONT PAGE - ALAN S. HALE

The law­suit be­tween the City of Corn­wall and the Mu­nic­i­pal Prop­erty As­sess­ment Corp. (MPAC) was put on the back burner soon af­ter it was launched in mid-July, and it will likely stay there for many months more.

The city is su­ing MPAC to seek some form of re­lief for the “in­ac­cu­rate as­sess­ments” of mul­ti­ple large com­mer­cial prop­er­ties in the com­mu­nity go­ing back sev­eral years. Those as­sess­ments have been suc­cess­fully ap­pealed by the own­ers – large cor­po­ra­tions such as Cana­dian Tire, Tar­get and Shop­pers Drug Mart – who ar­gued their prop­erty val­ues were set too high, and they have been over­pay­ing on their prop­erty taxes.

As a con­se­quence, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity had to re­turn al­ready-spent tax rev­enues, which blew a $6.4-mil­lion hole in the city’s fi­nances, and has helped drive res­i­den­tial prop­erty taxes in­creases in the process.

On July 11, the City of Corn­wall launched a law­suit against MPAC, ar­gu­ing the cor­po­ra­tion had been neg­li­gent when con­duct­ing its as­sess­ments. MPAC re­sponded on July 17, no­ti­fy­ing the court it in­tended to de­fend it­self against Corn­wall’s al­le­ga­tions.

Then noth­ing hap­pened. For sev­eral months.

Nor­mally, MPAC would have been re­quired to sub­mit its own coun­ter­ar­gu­ments against the city’s claims of neg­li­gence to the court within 30 days, but it never did. That is be­cause the mu­nic­i­pal­ity agreed to let the law­suit wait un­til the ap­peal of the prop­erty as­sess­ment for Wal­mart – in one case the for­mer Tar­get ware­house – is com­pleted.

“MPAC filed a No­tice of In­tent to De­fend, but we have not yet filed a State­ment of De­fence be­cause Corn­wall pro­vided a waiver of de­fence pend­ing the con­clu­sion of the Wal­mart dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre ap­peals at the As­sess­ment Re­view Board, or un­til ei­ther party (MPAC or Corn­wall) de­cides to pro­ceed with the Su­pe­rior Court lit­i­ga­tion,” con­firmed Cathy Ranieri Swee­nie, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for MPAC.

The city de­cided it was best to give MPAC time to re­solve the Wal­mart ap­peal, be­cause the mu­nic­i­pal­ity needs to know the out­come of that ap­peal so it can give a full ac­count­ing to the court of the fi­nan­cial cost it has suf­fered be­cause of poor as­sess­ments.

CAO Mau­reen Adams ex­plained the rea­son the city launched the law­suit be­fore know­ing the out­come of the Wal­mart ap­peal so that there would be no pos­si­bil­ity of los­ing the chance to sue be­cause of any statutes of lim­i­ta­tions.

This does mean it could be a long time be­fore the case goes in front of a judge, much less re­solved. Adams ex­pects it will be many months be­fore the Wal­mart ap­peal is fin­ished.

As of late Septem­ber, that ap­peal was still in the dis­cov­ery phase where the par­ties are gath­er­ing doc­u­ments and in­for­ma­tion they need to make their cases. On Sept. 28, the As­sess­ment Re­view Board ruled against a mo­tion put for­ward by Wal­mart in July seek­ing cer­tain doc­u­ments from MPAC. ahale@post­media.com

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