Property assessment board’s secrecy challenged

The Yukon Property Assessment Review Board should conduct its hearings in public, says a Mount Lorne resident. As things stand, Peter Percival worries that assessors hold too much sway over the board's decisions.

The Yukon Property Assessment Review Board should conduct its hearings in public, says a Mount Lorne resident.

As things stand, Peter Percival worries that assessors hold too much sway over the board’s decisions.

The board determines whether property tax assessments are too low or too high. Residents may file written complaints to the board within 30 days of receiving an assessment.

The board hears from the complainant and a property assessor, then makes a decision.

There are actually five review boards across the territory. Each has three members, all appointed by a cabinet order.

Percival went to the Edgewater Hotel for his review board hearing on Feb. 12. When he got there, he saw the assessor assigned to his case waiting with another individual outside the Windsor boardroom. There was another hearing happening.

He asked them why they weren’t in the boardroom. The assessor told him the meetings weren’t open to the public, he said.

That’s a problem, said Percival. Public meetings help keep the board accountable. Their decision on how one person is taxed could affect how someone else is taxed, and residents should be able to see how those decisions are made, he said.

“You could be a friend of the board, and the board could say, ‘Oh, Peter’s a good guy. We’ll make it work for him.’ And nobody else would know,” said Percival.

Typically, the hearings aren’t public to protect the privacy of individuals making a complaint, said Kelly Eby, the director of the property assessment and taxation branch with the Department of Community Services. But complainants could ask the board to allow their hearings to be public, he said.

“The board’s trying to make (hearings) informal and to not discourage people from making complaints,” said Eby.

But that’s not the way it works elsewhere. In British Columbia, hearings of the Property Assessment Review Panel are open to the public. And there’s a guideline for how hearings will proceed, available online. The Alberta government provides similar information on its website.

The Yukon government website has general information about property assessments. But nothing outlines what happens at hearings.

That’s not Percival’s only concern. Before his hearing began, Percival saw the assessor from the previous hearing talking with the board before they left the room. He’s concerned they could have been discussing the hearing before making their final decision.

Percival’s gone to the review board before, but hasn’t seen this behaviour previously, he said. Last week, he told the board their meetings should be public, and the assessor shouldn’t be in the room when decisions are being made. The board members were really interested in what he had to say, he said. He left shortly after.

“I found it incredible that they hadn’t realized that there’s an apprehension of bias and of influence if you have the assessor in when you’re doing your deliberations,” he said.

It’s hard to say if the board and assessor were discussing the hearing together before the decision was made, said Eby. The board decides how it will run the hearings and who is in the room at what time, he said.

But he’s confident in how the boards work.

“They’re very good,” he said. “The board members are all professional. They’re wanting fairness and equity, and many of them have been long-standing members on each of the individual boards, which I think speaks to their professionalism.”

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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