Thursday, October 11, 2012

Me thinks thou protest too much: In Praise of the MAA

Surely by now, if you own property, you have received your 2012 property assessment in the mail.   It’s been a jaw dropping experience for most people as we have seen the appraised values of our properties go up by 25% or more over the last assessment 3 years ago.   Because of this, the Municipal Assessment Agency, the provincial agency that calculates the values, has become a lightning rod for taxpayers and municipal governments alike. Tuesday night’s Council meeting was no exception.  The MAA received an impassioned bashing – but I’m not convinced.

If you look at your assessment, I am sure that you will agree that it is a truer reflection of the actual value of your property.  Ask yourself honestly – could I get at least this much for my house if I sold it?  I am sure you will agree that it’s a more realistic value.   Because this assessed value is more realistic, banks will more readily acknowledge the value of your assets – making loans easier and cheaper to get. As well, investors in our town will have a more realistic assessment of the stock of property in the town – a healthier/wealthier town is a more attractive investment opportunity.

The impact of the assessment on your tax bill is totally in control of the Town council.  The “mil” rate sets taxes based on the assessed value of your property – and the Town controls the mil rate.   So lowering the rate would effectively allow the town to keep your tax bill the same.

The likelihood is that your taxes will go up.   This assessment side show effectively allows towns to raise tax revenues (by creatively adjusting the mil rate) while at the same time saying that they are lowering tax rates. This is a dream come true for politicians – as long as property values continue to grow.  

So the Municipal Assessment Agency lightning rod is a great way to deflect the political fallout from an effective tax increase by towns – a boon to politicians that they say they hate.  (As long as I get value for my tax dollar I am agreeable to a reasonable tax increase.)

The real issue of the inequity in tax load between people in incorporated towns who are highly taxed and those in unincorporated regions who are not as taxed ( but avail of the services) is being ignored.  This is the issue that should be the focus of the debate. Unfortunately that debate is not as politically beneficial to politicians at both the provincial and municipal levels.        

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