By Cole Parkinson
The Municipal District of Taber has decisions to make in relation to designated industrial property assessment after changes to the Modernized Municipal Government Act and Regulations.
During the M.D.’s regular meeting on Feb. 13, councillors were informed of the two options moving forward from their assessment team and administration.
The M.D. has been given a DIP contract they can either accept and opt in or simply say no but neither option presents a clear cut choice.
“The Modernized Municipal Government has changed to many things including process assessment. A number of years ago they were notified that certain properties that they currently assess have been designated as Designated Industrial Properties or DIP. Those properties are mainly in our area, processing and oil and gas facilities. There are about 1,000 that will fall under DIP assessment,” said Derrick Krizsan, CAO for the M.D. of Taber. “The process is, these properties that were once assessed by municipal assessors, the authorization to assess those will now be transferred over to the provincial assessor and it will be their responsibility to assess them. What we are looking at for council consideration today is through this whole process the provincial assessor is now offered back to municipalities and to, in some cases, the contract or organizations who do this assessment the ability to become designated assessors or DIP properties within the municipality working for the provincial assessor for the assessment for these 970 odd parcels.”
The M.D.’s assessment team has been tasked with going through the contract and signalling out both the benefits and disadvantages each option presents.
While the decision wasn’t expected to be given at the Feb. 13 meeting, council only has a limited amount of time before the cut off.
“Over the last (couple of weeks) or so they have been going through the pro’s and con’s because with the way this legislation is written, there are more con’s than pro’s right now. They aren’t looking for a decision today, we have to provide a decision to the province by Feb. 28 on whether or not we are going to be participating in this hybrid model of assessment for designated industrial properties,” added Krizsan.
While 970 parcels represent about 10 per cent of the base, another large portion will be included in the DIP assessments.
“Part of the now DIP also includes our linear which would be roughly 70 and 80 per cent of our tax base,” said M.D. assessor Angel Svennes.
Svennes gave councillors a quick and simple explanation on what happens if they opt in or out of the contract.
“If you execute this contract and one of us signs the delegation contract, you cannot execute the contract without a delegate so we’re all in this together. As delegates working to perform services required to be provided by the municipality in the contract, we are your employees, you are being reimbursed for our time but we take our direction from the provincial assessor. Any communication you ask of us regarding the DIP, we have to ask for permission (from the province) to give you, particularly in a public form. The good thing about that is you are still looking at people who historically you have employed to do your assessments. We’re familiar with the properties, we’re familiar with the municipality, we have networks with our companies, we have all of that history. You don’t have some different assessor re-establishing all of those things. If you choose to opt out it’s unclear if you will be able to choose who does your own work. We know that the provincial assessor is responsible for it but who that position puts down here to do that work, we have no idea. If this experiment works it could be the permanent model, that’s one of the biggest unknowns.”
If it doesn’t work it won’t be the permanent model and they will go in a completely different direction,” said Svennes. “Or we say we’re out. We have options, it’s not all or nothing if we opt in. If we opt out, you are out forever and you’re never getting back in.”
Backing out of the contract will allow the assessors to be available to the M.D. as necessary instead of the delay of getting permission from the government if they opt in.
Lack of insurance, providing all records on demand and losing material ownership of past work among other things highlight some con’s to accepting the contract.
The M.D. assessment team didn’t see much of a benefit to being presented these options as they figured the way they were doing it in the past was the best choice.
“The Municipal Government Act has been written to set this all up. My personal opinion is the way we’ve been doing it, is the best way but it’s no longer a choice. The provincial government is basically giving us two choices, we opt into the hybrid approach and then they expect it follows the appointed assessor will act as a delegate, sign a delegate document. If you don’t take the hybrid approach, then you are out of it. That’s the last say you have in anything and the provincial assessor will appoint assessors to do the DIP assessment. That’s basically what it is and in those Angel has set up nice pro’s and con’s for both of those options,” said Pat Hanson, director of assessment for the M.D.
While the assessor team was in M.D. council chambers, they came as a neutral party and didn’t steer councillors in their decision either way.
“We’re firmly seated right on the middle of the fence on this one. It’s not a two to three vote it’s we don’t want to be in for these reasons but yet these are concerns why we should participate,” said Svennes. “We have identified risks no matter what we do.”
The need for this contract stems from the lack of assessors in Alberta and right now they are in serious need of people who have experience.
“Right now the province needs us. And this isn’t a comment made to sway you one way or another, it’s just the simple reality of the situation. It’s the provincial assessors responsibility to prepare these assessments. They have tried for 12 months to recruit people with the necessary skills to do it and they’ve managed to hire three. None of them have industrial property experience,” said Svennes.
If the M.D. were to opt in on the contract Pat Hanson would be the designated assessor and he would have to report to the provincial assessor quarterly which presents another unknown for the M.D. as they don’t currently do that.
Other municipalities are in the same boat and have been reaching out to the M.D. to see where they are leaning.
“I did a informal survey amongst rural municipalities, we had 37 responses in two days, 31 indicated that they were participating,” said Krizsan.