Jeff Green | Nov 03, 2005
Feature Article - November 3, 2005
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Feature ArticleNovember 3, 2005
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The long and winding road that led nowhere
by Jeff Green
Not long after purchasing his property on Road 38 at Oconto, Helm Ozolins realised he had overpaid for the property. The condition of the house, which was built in 1977, was much worse than he had realised. He was faced with expensive repairs with little or no means to pay them. To make matters worse, the fact that he had paid a high price for the house immediately affected its assessed value, making the taxes on the house particularly onerous.
Helm Ozolins is a persistent man, and not one to suffer fools, either. So when he received an assessment increase of $56,000 in 2003 he decided to dispute the assessment. The assessment increase led to a tax increase in excess of $850.
This led him to a two-year odyssey of letters, meetings, and faxes to Municipal Property Assessment Corporation officials, several MPPs, members of the Provincial Finance Department, and the staff of Central Frontenac Township.
At first, Helm Ozolins played by the MPAC rules, filling out a Request for Reconsideration form. On October 8, 2003, he received his response. It wasn’t what he was hoping for.
“After reviewing your assessment, I am satisfied that your assessed value is fair and the classification is correct,” the letter concluded.
The next recourse open to Mr. Ozolins at that point was to file an appeal with the independent Assessment Review Board, at a cost of $50.
But Helm Ozolins was angry. He didn’t feel that his property had really been reassessed. He didn’t feel that the list of comparable properties that he had been given by MPAC were similar to his own. Helm also didn’t think that some of the serious ongoing maintenance problems with his house were reflected in his assessment.
While he did prepare for a formal appeal, he continued to press MPAC for a reconsideration of his assessment. His assertion was that an actual reconsideration had not taken place, only computer comparisons were used. The tone of his letters was growing bitter.
“You are completely out to lunch and your guesstimated assessments are totally unacceptable. The house is less worthy now than in your previous assessment in 2001. The roof is leaking and all of the shingles need replacing. Several windows have leaky seals and need to be replaced …” he wrote to MPAC.
He also began a trail of correspondence to political officials in other ministries including Municipal Affairs Minister Johnn Gerretson and then Minister of Finance Greg Sorbara.
In February of 2004, a property assessor from MPAC phoned Ozolins to set up a time for a visit. Within a few hours of setting up the time, Ozolins realised he would not be available, so he faxed back to say a new time should be found. The assessor came anyway, leaving a note saying he had looked around. On February 23, 2004, another letter came from MPAC. “Based on our analysis, we have determined the assessed value and classification of your property are correct.”
Ozolins filed his paperwork for a formal appeal of his assessment. In the months before the appeal was scheduled, he kept up a string of correspondence with officials, within MPAC and the government, concerning his case.
He also prepared a videotaped submission for the review panel to demonstrate the conditions in and around his house which he felt would affect its market value. At the end of October, Marty Kapitan, a manager from MPAC in Eastern Ontario, talked to Helm Ozolins over the phone, and Kapitan accepted an offer by Helm to send him a copy of the videotape he had prepared. Finally, at the end of November, as the hearing was approaching, MPAC and Ozolins agreed on a value for his property. The assessment was decreased by $28,000, leading to a tax savings in the range of $430.
This meant savings for Helm Ozolins in the 2004 and 2005 tax years.
Last month Helm Ozolins, like all other Frontenac County ratepayers, received an assessment notice for the 2006 taxation year. His property has been assessed $32,000 higher than it was assessed at in December of 2004.
“The only difference in the condition of the property from December 2004 until today is that it now takes 30 pots to catch the water when it rains. It only used to take 15,” Ozolin says.
When properties are reassessed through appeal or request for reconsideration, the new assessments are not fixed to the property. In the next assessment year there is every likelihood the assessment will be as high or higher as it was before the reconsideration took place.
For Helm Ozolins, the long and tortuous process is beginning again.
A provincial Omudsman is conducting a review of MPAC’s practices after hearing complaints from many parts of the province.