Officials defend property assessments

Government officials say there are no plans to change the territory's property tax system.

Government officials say there are no plans to change the territory’s property tax system.

Whitehorse lawyer Graham Lang has suggested it is time to overhaul this regime, given his findings that some Whitehorse residents pay considerably more in property tax compared with others owning homes of comparable market value. In particular, owners of mid-ranged Granger houses pay $600 more than owners of homes that fetch comparable prices in Porter Creek and Riverdale.

Assessed values are part of the equation that the city uses to determine how much property tax residents owe.

Kelly Eby, the director of the property assessment taxation branch, says he doesn’t think there is a desire for change.

The valuation process looks at the value of the land and the property’s replacement cost, less depreciation, Eby explained.

The Assessment Taxation Act guides all that. It was last amended in 2004.

“In certain areas in the city, they’re going to have higher values based on the replacement cost, less depreciation,” Eby said.

“For example in the Riverdale neighbourhood, some of the buildings there are 45 years old in comparison to a neighbourhood such as Copper Ridge where there’s new homes, to a 15 to 20-year-old home.”

He said it’s a mistake to compare the way homes are assessed with the market value.

One looks at how much the market is willing to pay for a property and the other is set out by legislation, he said.

Eby, who is the chief territorial assessor and has been assessing properties for more than 10 years, thinks the current system is the right one for the territory.

“I think the intent is to fairly distribute the taxes that individuals will pay. So, let’s say, the owner of the $800,000-valued home wherever in the city, is not paying similar to the owner of the $50,000 home in the city,” he said.

The system works in the Yukon for a number of reasons, he said.

“We don’t see huge market value changes as you may in other areas. It aids municipalities in their budgeting. It aids property owners ultimately in the taxes they pay,” he said.

“It is also very hard in areas such as Old Crow or smaller communities to develop some sort of a different approach to the valuation that would be fair and equitable to all of them.”

With so little market activity, there is no other approach to valuation that could be used, he said.

The government is working constantly to come up with the most accurate replacement value for properties, he said.

“The assessors have a great resource because they are out in the field quite a bit looking at new buildings plus they have discussions with contractors. We review lumber reporters, CPI (Consumer Price Index) and various other tools.”

Property owners also have the option of disputing their assessment.

When the notices go out every year in December, residents have 30 days to lodge a complaint.

Rural and municipal properties are assessed on alternating years.

More complaints usually come during a municipal year, Eby said.

In some cases, the sides are able to come to an agreement before having to go to a hearing in front of a review board.

“When we go to the review board, for the most part, unless we haven’t been able to communicate with the property owner, we’re comfortable in supporting the value,” Eby said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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