Saturday , 12 June 2021

Province moves County to centralized assessment model ahead of schedule

The decision to move the County of St. Paul to a centralized assessment model a year ahead of schedule is just one of the issues the council and administration hope to discuss with the Minister of Municipal Affairs in a meeting at the spring convention for the Rural Municipalities Association in March.

According to CAO for the County of St. Paul Sheila Kitz, the County was informed by letter late in 2020 that they would not be centralized until 2022, “so this does come as a shock.”

A second letter received Jan. 4 said the County is now being moved to the centralized model effective July 4, 2021.

“For the municipalities that have already been centralized, they’re only doing 20 per cent [of designated industrial properties] they feel that is sufficient,” said Kitz at the council meeting Jan. 12.

Designated industrial properties make up approximately 35 per cent of the County of St. Paul’s annual tax revenues.

Under the current hybrid assessment model, 100 per cent of designated industrial properties in the County are assessed each year.

Designated industrial properties are facilities regulated by the Alberta Energy Regulator, Canadian Energy Regulator, and Alberta Utilities Commission, as well as major plants like refineries or pulp and paper mills. There are approximately 1500 such properties in the County of St. Paul.

“This is worrisome to say the least as there is a lot of change in these types of properties and going by reports provided by industry may not give the best information to have accurate assessment,” said Kitz in an e-mail after the meeting.

She also noted they would not receive the details of the assessment on those properties, only the value attributed for tax purposes.

Div. 6 Coun. Laurent Amyotte said the reduction in the number of properties being assessed wouldn’t make much difference in the first year, “but every year thereafter is going to compound kind of get worse and worse and worse.”

According to Municipal Affairs, they began the process of centralizing assessment of designated industrial properties across the province in 2017 when the Municipal Governance Act was updated. The goal of centralized assessments is “improved consistency and equity for industrial taxpayers and lower administrative costs for municipalities.”

But one of the big concerns Kitz has about being centralized is the increase in administrative costs to the County. Under the current hybrid model, the province already handles the assessment for the approximately 50 pipeline tax rolls in the County.

“Based on the way the assessment [of the pipelines] comes to the County, it takes our staff significant time to get this information into our assessment and financial software so that we can produce assessment/tax notices,” said Kitz in a follow up e-mail after the meeting.

“If we receive the assessment [of designated industrial properties] in a form that is different from how we get them now from our current assessor, the time County staff have to spend to be able to balance this to our financial program will be significant.  We also understand that once we move off of the Hybrid contract, the County has no ability to charge the Province for the administrative time to process this information.  It will be very difficult with our current staffing to accomplish this given the time sensitivity of the information and deadlines to use this information.”

At the meeting, Kitz said the county has had staff from municipal affairs visit within the last three or four years and showed them how they struggle with the pipeline information.

“And they were extremely shocked at what has to happen with that information. But I can tell you, since they’ve been out here, they’ve done nothing to change it, we’re still doing the same, very tedious process on the pipeline side of things. And I’m just worried about what the situation will be like when we have to do the designated industrial property assessment as well,” said Kitz.

A motion by Div. 1 Coun. Darrell Younghans to send a letter to Municipal Affairs detailing the county’s concerns carried.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.