Council takes issue with assessment policies

Property Valuation Services Corporation vice-president of business and innovation services, Carlos Resendes spoke with Richmond Municipal Councillors on January 22 in Arichat.

ARICHAT: The organization that oversees property assessment in the province answered tough questions from Richmond Municipal Councillors last week.

Carlos Resendes, vice-president of business and innovations services with the Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC), addressed the January 22 meeting of Richmond Municipal Council in Arichat.

Resendes presented the 2018 assessment roll for Richmond County. In the past year, residential accounts rose from 12,382 to 12,470 and commercial accounts stayed relatively the same, as did apartment accounts. Residential sale transactions increased from 264 to 291. The total residential assessed value rose from $760,932,100 to $773,345,600, but all commercial assessed value dropped from $331,385,700 to $328,625,300. Also going in a negative direction were permits, which went from 243 to 197.

In questioning Resendes, Richmond Warden Brian Marchand took issue with the Capped Assessment Program, which he said creates inequalities.

“[You have] a property that hasn’t sold in 30 years and the neighbouring property sold five times, there’s sometimes 1.5 times the assessment value on a property that’s sold,” the warden stated. “Here’s a property, same home, different colour, same age and they’re assessed half of what I am… Something needs to be done.”

According to the PVSC, the CAP limits the amount residential property assessments can increase year over year and is based on the percentage change in the Nova Scotia Consumer Price Index. Municipal property taxes are calculated using either the market assessment or capped assessment, whichever is lowest.

The PVSC also noted that new construction (including renovations) and commercial properties are not eligible for the CAP and eligibility criteria for the program can create tax inequities between similar properties.

Marchand also took issue with the current practice of having the Nova Scotia Power generating station and biomass co-generation plant, both in Point Tupper, on Richmond County’s assessment roll even though the power company pays no industrial taxes to the municipality.

“I’m not sure if they’re actually adding a dollar value because the biomass sold for $80 million, so is it assessed at that?” Marchand asked. “We have $850 million of assessment, what’s the Point Tupper generating station assessed for… If it’s assessed for $50 million to $100 million, there’s $100 million to $250 million that’s added into our $850 million. They base what we pay to them based on that value, as well as based on the number of accounts.”

The warden said having higher assessments raises costs for policing, education and social services.

“We pay $270,000 which I think is quite a bit of money for what we’re getting,” Marchand said of the fee for the PVSC’s services. “I’m not saying the service is not good, it’s just could be as a municipality do it cheaper?”

Resendes explained that Nova Scotia Power provides the PVSC with the values of its facilities, which is then divided among the province’s 52 municipalities in the form of grants in lieu of taxes.

Deputy Warden James Goyetche asked how much a tribunal would cost a property owner if an assessment appeal is denied.

Resendes replied that there is no cost to the property owner and tribunals are held in each zone in the province. If a case does make it to that stage, the property owner does have the option of presenting their case – with or without legal representation – the PVSC will give their side, and a decision will be reached by an independent third party.

Goyetche pointed to the cases of St. Joseph’s Hall in Petit de Grat which was assessed at $178,000 and the D’Escousse Civic Improvement Centre, which received an “almost $600,000” valuation as evidence that there needs to be a separate process to assess community centres.

“They say they base properties on market value but what kind of value does a parish hall have or a community hall,” the district 1 councillor asked. “If I were to sell the hall in Petit de Grat… you’d be lucky if you get $50,000.”

Under By-Law 56, the deputy warden said halls are exempt from paying property taxes, and as a result, do not appeal their assessments.

“When they get the assessment, they don’t appeal it but it becomes part of the uniform assessment,” Goyetche noted. “And then we pay mandatory contributions based on uniform assessment.”

Goyetche said these facilities deserve the tax exemptions because they are run by non-profit, volunteer organizations, but he wants to make sure their assessed values are reasonable.

“We have to watch to make sure their assessment isn’t jacked-up so high that it doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We got to pay on that. That means we’re giving double the money. We’re giving a grant to us on the taxes, plus we’re paying mandatory contributions.”

Resendes responded that the PVSC is open to considering other ways of assessing unique properties, like community facilities and he requested the municipality provide them with a list of such facilities. He said there might be no reason to appeal, but he promised to be in contact with the municipality well before the appeal period ends.

District 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher addressed a unique situation in his district surrounding property once owned by author Farley Mowatt. In 2006, the Mowatt’s entrusted their 200-acre property in River Bourgeois to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust.

“They have never paid taxes, as far back as I can find out from the county,” Boucher said following the meeting. “I don’t know what loopholes they got into but I think it needs to be plugged up.”

Resendes promised to look into the status of the property.