Property Assessment and Classification Review - Access to Assessment Information

ISSUES AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The following segment of the report contains recommendations on the issues that were raised during the second phase of the property assessment and classification review as well as issues raised during the first phase of the review which were not addressed in the report of the Special Advisor dated April 2, 2001.

ACCESS TO ASSESSMENT INFORMATION

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) issued new policy guidelines in April 2002 governing the release of assessment information. The policy guideline document, which is entitled "Guidelines for the Release of Assessment Data (GRAD)", sets out the type of information that MPAC will release to property owners, tenants, municipalities and other government entities, and it lists the associated charges.

The stated principles underlying the GRAD policies include the following:

  • every property owner has the right to obtain access to the factual information about his/her property that is maintained by MPAC, and this information should be provided free of charge;
  • assessment information should be released to the public in a manner that meets the needs of the client, protects the privacy of personal information, and preserves the proprietary interests of MPAC;
  • information shall not be released if the release would violate the requirements of provincial legislation.

The type of information that is provided under the GRAD policy includes such items as property specifications (e.g. legal description and square footage), appraisal cards and tally sheets, fair market rent studies, gross rent multipliers, land studies, and maps.

During the consultations, several taxpayers and industry associations expressed a desire for MPAC to be required to provide the public with more comprehensive assessment information than that which is currently made available under the GRAD policy. In particular, taxpayers expressed a keen interest in having access to information about the methodologies, policies and processes that are applied by MPAC in the valuation of properties.

It was suggested that property owners would be more accepting of their property assessments if they understood the basis upon which the assessments were derived. However, in the absence of receiving such an explanation, many owners feel compelled to appeal their assessments in order to obtain information about the methodology and the criteria that were used to value their properties.


Recommendation:

  • It is recommended that MPAC and the Ministry of Finance work together to ensure that there is an open exchange of information between MPAC and the public.

    It is recommended that this matter be overseen by the Ministry of Finance / MPAC Joint Committee, which is in the best position to review the gamut of information in MPAC's possession and to evaluate the legal constraints confronting MPAC with respect to the confidentiality and proprietary nature of the information.
  • It is recommended that the Joint Committee review MPAC's current policies governing the release of assessment information to determine whether the policies sufficiently respond to the needs of municipalities and the public, and that the Joint Committee report to the Minister of Finance within six months to advise whether MPAC should provide expanded access to information about assessment methodologies, policies and procedures.
  • It is recommended that the following principles guide the Joint Committee in its deliberations on this matter:
    • Property owners should be provided with sufficient information to enable them to understand the basis upon which their property assessments are derived. In order for taxpayers and municipalities to have confidence in the assessment system, they need to have a basic level of understanding about how the system operates.
    • It is vital that MPAC safeguard the personal information that it collects as part of its statutory duties. As we move further into the age of electronic information, it is critical to ensure that the privacy rights of our citizens are protected.

Discussion:

It is noted that MPAC has the authority to charge taxpayers and municipalities a fee for assessment products and services that are provided outside the mandatory statutory duties performed by the corporation.

It is recognized that cost recovery and revenue generation are appropriate activities for an organization such as MPAC, provided that the fees and charges are approved by the Board of Directors.

It is important to strike a balance between the need for taxpayers to be provided with open access to information about their own assessments, the right of MPAC to recover its costs and generate revenue, and the right of MPAC to maintain a proprietary interest in its products.



ACCREDITATION OF ASSESSORS

It was proposed during the consultations that persons who work as property assessors in Ontario should have to meet minimum educational requirements and should have to be accredited through a professional body such as the Institute of Municipal Assessors (IMA) or the Appraisal Institute of Canada.


Recommendation:

  • It is recommended that standard education or accreditation requirements not be imposed by the Province upon persons working as property assessors.

Discussion:

It is well recognized that professional associations, such as the IMA, do important work in promoting the continuing education of property assessors and enhancing the respect and profile of this profession. However, it is believed that MPAC is in the best position to determine its requirements in terms of the educational background of its staff. MPAC has demonstrated its commitment to hiring the most qualified personnel to perform the assessment function.



ADVISORY COMMITTEES

Many positive comments were expressed by stakeholders during this review about the satisfaction they felt in having the opportunity to convey their concerns directly to a provincial government representative. Feedback was particularly positive about the multi-party meetings which were convened to facilitate dialogue among stakeholders and to encourage stakeholders to reach a consensus position that satisfies all parties.

The open dialogue that occurred during this review provided a valuable opportunity for taxpayers, municipalities and the province to address issues in a meaningful and productive way.

Many stakeholders requested a permanent forum in which assessment and property tax issues could be discussed on a collaborative basis with representatives of the provincial government, municipalities, taxpayers, and MPAC. Such a forum would enable the provincial and municipal governments to work together with taxpayers to identify emerging issues and to propose solutions.


Recommendation:

  • It is recommended that the Ministry of Finance / MPAC Joint Committee serve as an ongoing venue in which stakeholder groups can bring forward assessment and property tax issues that are causing concern within their particular sectors.
  • It is recommended that the Joint Committee take the initiative to inform stakeholders of the opportunity to make submissions and engage in discussion with provincial government and MPAC representatives through this Committee.

Discussion:

It is important to maintain an ongoing dialogue on property assessment and taxation issues among the Province, taxpayers, municipalities and MPAC. As a permanent body, the Ministry of Finance / MPAC Joint Committee is an ideal forum in which to conduct this dialogue. This venue should allow all parties to work together to identify emerging problems and propose solutions.

The Joint Committee was recently restructured to include representation from the office of the Minister of Finance, the MPAC Board of Directors, and senior staff from both organizations.

In order for this process to be meaningful, it will be important for the Committee to be proactive in inviting stakeholders to make presentations to the Committee on a regular basis.

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Notes:

  • In an interim report to the former Minister of Finance dated December 5, 2001, a recommendation was made to establish a series of advisory committees which would serve as a forum for discussing assessment and property tax issues that affect various sectors. It was proposed that these committees be led by the Ministry of Finance with the participation of MPAC.
  • In view of the recent restructuring of the Ministry of Finance / MPAC Joint Committee, it is believed that this Committee is an appropriate forum for the discussion of stakeholders' concerns. It is preferable to maximize the role of this existing body rather than creating new committees.


APPEALS

Two issues relating to the appeal process were raised by stakeholders during the consultations.

Appeal following Request for Reconsideration

The deadline for submitting assessment appeals to the Assessment Review Board (ARB) is March 31st of each taxation year. This date is legislated under the Assessment Act and it is consistent for all properties province-wide.

As an alternative to appealing an assessment to the ARB (for which there is a charge to help offset the Board's administrative costs), property owners have the option of following the less formal procedure of requesting a reconsideration of their assessment from MPAC (for which there is no charge). The deadline to submit a request for reconsideration is December 31st of each taxation year.

Quite frequently, property owners will submit a request for reconsideration to MPAC early in the year, and if MPAC is unable to respond to the request before the March 31st appeal deadline, the owners will submit a protective appeal to the ARB to maintain their appeal rights in case they are not satisfied with MPAC's response to their request for reconsideration. In the event that the reconsideration process does lead to a settlement, the property owner may obtain a refund of their appeal filing fee from the ARB.

It was suggested during the consultations that instead of having a process in place which encourages property owners to file protective appeals (which may turn out to be unnecessary and which impose an administrative burden on the ARB who has to process extra appeals and issue fee refunds), it would be preferable to have a floating appeal deadline. Specifically, it was proposed that where a property owner submits a request for reconsideration to MPAC, the appeal deadline for that property owner should be a certain number of days (e.g. 90 days) following the date that MPAC issues its response to the request for reconsideration.



Recommendation:

  • It is recommended that the deadline to appeal assessments to the ARB remain consistent for all property owners at March 31st of the taxation year.

Discussion:

While it is recognized that a floating appeal deadline could reduce the number of protective appeals that are filed each year and may ease the administrative burden of the ARB, it is believed that it is important for municipalities to have the certainty of knowing the number of properties under appeal early in the tax year. The paramount interest is for municipalities to have adequate information during the first quarter of the tax year to enable them to quantify their potential tax exposure prior to finalizing budgets and setting tax rates.


Upper-Tier Appeal Rights

It was pointed out during the review that lower-tier and single-tier municipalities have the right to appeal property assessments, but upper-tier municipalities do not possess this right.

Although the Assessment Act states that "any person, including a municipality" may appeal the assessment of another person's property, the Act defines "municipality" as meaning "a city, town, village or township". This definition excludes upper-tier municipalities.

A request was made during the consultations for appeal rights to be conferred upon upper-tier municipalities.



Recommendation:

  • It is recommended that appeal powers not be conferred upon upper-tier municipalities.

Discussion:

Under the present structure of the property tax system, local municipalities (that is, lower-tier and single-tier municipalities) are the administrators of the tax system. They are responsible for billing, collecting, and enforcing the payment of property taxes.

Local municipalities are also given the right to initiate property assessment appeals. This right is complementary to the fact that local municipalities are statutory parties to every assessment appeal which is initiated by other persons in respect of property located within their boundaries. Under section 40 of the Assessment Act, the parties to every assessment appeal are the appellant, the owner of the property whose assessment is being appealed (if this is a someone other than the appellant), MPAC, and the local municipality.

It seems appropriate that only one level of municipal government should be given the responsibility for appealing assessments and for defending appeals in respect of properties located within their borders. Giving appeal rights to upper-tier municipalities would introduce unnecessary duplication into the appeal system.



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