Wednesday, November 16, 2005

There's a truck stuck in the sewer

There is only one thing you can be certain of in London Ontario - if you aren't poor yet, you will be. Citizens here are used to feeling like helpless pawns, especially during budget time, as council promises tax relief, claiming large surpluses and magical gifts from the province, while they threaten us with significant tax increases. "The People Must Eat" they say.

This year the pawns are omitted from the game almost entirely, because the property assessment verdicts that will effect their finances and grocery budget got lost in the mail.

Property assessment notices that have provoked controversy in Ontario will be in London mailboxes as early as today.

The assessments play a critical role in determining how much property taxes rise or fall. Criticism of the agency that creates them has led Ontario's ombudsman to investigate.

While the notices contain a variety of information, the key measure is this: Did the value of your home go up more, less or about the same as the average London home?

If your assessment jump matched the city's average of 13.82 per cent, your tax rate likely will be whatever is set by council, which may be heading toward a tax hike of three per cent or less.

But if your assessment rises by more than the city average, your taxes will, too -- the bigger the jump, the greater the tax hike.

Those with lower than average assessment jumps will see smaller tax increases, even tax reductions.

Municipal Property Assessment Corp. (MPAC) officials defended its valuations.

But corporation officials encouraged those with questions or concerns to call them, toll free, at 1-866-296-6722.
"Thank you for holding", utters the seductive voice of the machine on the other end of the line. "We are experiencing an unusually high level of calls right now, but your call is important to us. Please stay on the line. Also note that your call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes."
"Fifty per cent of people who put in requests for reconsideration get a reduction. We want to get it right," MPAC vice- president Larry Hummel told the The London Free Press editorial board yesterday.

MPAC analysts consider as many as 200 variables about a home to determine its value, but the five biggest, accounting for 85 per cent of an assessment, are a home's location, size, quality and age, and the size of its lot.

Critics have complained the method is strictly computer-driven and makes mistakes, but Hummel disagreed, saying staff do independent field checks as well.

But London homeowner Martin Hettwer, who monitors quality for an area auto parts manufacturer, hasn't been impressed.

His northwest London home was listed as having two storeys when it does not.

"People should check," he said.

Assessment data obtained by The Free Press show London homes have increased in value over the past two years by 13.82 per cent -- more than twice as much as commercial and industrial properties.

Unless the province intervenes -- as city officials expect -- even average homeowners will get socked with a bigger tax hike than council adopts.
People should leave London.