Council hopes private company will issue more favorable appeal decisions

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At its regular meeting on May 24, the board voted 5 to 1 to hire Meota-based Western Municipal Consulting (WMC) to provide Board of Review (BOR) services for this year.

Frustrated with the continued loss of revenue from property assessment appeals, the city council replaced the citizen-based quasi-judicial review board with a private company in hopes of receiving more favorable decisions.

At its regular meeting on May 24, the board voted 5 to 1 to hire Meota-based Western Municipal Consulting (WMC) to provide Board of Review (BOR) services for this year.

Com. Kim Robinson was opposed, while the adviser. Crystal Froese was absent.

Appeal losses

The municipality has lost significant tax revenue over the past 10 years due to board assessment appeal decisions, City Manager Jim Puffalt said. In 2021, Moose Jaw lost $358,704 in tax revenue, with most losses occurring in the commercial and industrial property categories.

About $154,000 was lost due to valuation errors – which were corrected by adjustment agreements – while the other lost $204,000 due to board decisions.

“We believe that with independent counsel, we will be able to reverse the appeals process,” Puffalt said.

History shows that the Saskatchewan Municipal Board — the highest complaint level — overrules most BOD decisions and rules in favor of the city, he continued. However, this takes several years, leaving the town hall in a tight cash position.

History also shows that a privately contracted BOR making the right decisions at this initial stage could reverse the current years-long process of reaching a conclusion, Puffalt noted. This could reduce the city’s need to prepare for annual call losses of $200,000.

The SMB reversed all 14 BOR decisions in 2019 and all 20 decisions in 2020, according to a board report. Meanwhile, the committee overturned 15 of 29 appeals in 2018 and 21 of 28 appeals in 2017.

Financial costs

The Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency (SAMA) spent more than $80,000 in legal fees last year fighting assessment appeals, Puffalt said. Outsourcing a full-time CA could reduce SAMA’s legal fees, meet rising costs, and possibly leave a surplus at the end of this four-year assessment cycle.

Last year, the municipality paid $68,000 to the part-time citizens’ council and its secretary, he said. If Western Municipal Consulting had performed the work using the same rates and hours, the city would have paid the company $124,812.50.

WMC also charges an annual fee of $250, mileage for appeal hearings, printing costs, and postage.

“…being able to transfer money the other way (from successful calls) would give us money to fund additional costs,” Puffalt said.

“Nothing against current or previous board members, but these independent boards do it on a full-time professional basis. This will allow us to ensure that Board of Review decisions are made in a timely manner and that the economic cycle is not affected. »

The city administration did not provide a draft agreement at the meeting, which concerned the council. Kim Robinson because he felt the council had nothing to review. He also wondered how they save money when hiring WMC would cost twice as much.

The municipality will save money since it won’t have to budget for appeal losses at the board level, Puffalt said. The town hall also thinks that efficiency gains will occur, but will have a better idea after the first year.

Appreciation

Council appreciates the time and effort of council members over the years, Mayor Clive Tolley said. He called board chair Terry Goebel — a 10-year-old member — and the other members to thank them for doing a good job for Moose Jaw.

“It’s a big job and they had to do a lot of reading and figure out a lot of things that are complicated…” Coun said. Heather Eby.

The Council is doing something new by hiring a private company and trying to improve “a sometimes very frustrating process”, she continued. However, if that doesn’t work, the city can revert to citizen-led council.

“I hope people can see that the city council has really tried to find ways to be progressive and make things work a little bit better,” Eby added. “And we’re the ones trying to do that.”

The next regular council meeting will be on Monday, June 13.


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