| Mar 30, 2006


Feature Article - March 30, 2006

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Feature Article - March 30, 2006

Ombudsman slams MPAC"Getting it Right" focuses on how MPACgets it wrong

byJeffGreen

A scathing report by the Provincial Ombudsman Andre Marin has confirmed what taxpayers have been saying for years: the Ontario Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) often makes mistakes.

The report went on the say that MPAC makes it difficult for taxpayers to access information about how their property was assessed, makes it difficult for taxpayers to appeal their assessment, and when an appeal successfully reduces an assessment, MPAC then ignores the appeal in future years.

“The credibility of MPAC’s evaluation process simply cannot be restored without altering how it operates on a day-to-day basis and changing key aspects of its corporate culture” Marin said in making 22 recommendations for improvements to MPAC’s operational practices.

The provincial government has committed to implementing 18 of the recommendations and will study the other 4.

Backstage_antics

In the Executive summary to his 94-page report, released this Tuesday, Marin describes MPAC as an institution that does not understand that its role is to serve the people that are subject to its efforts.

“While technically MPAC is a non-profit corporation it is in substance a public servant meant to operate in the public interest and in the public trust. As such, it has to get it right in matters of transparency, competence and fairness. My investigation of MPAC has revealed that, instead, MPAC has all too often gotten it wrong.”

Marin said that MPAC “has to accept more fully and openly than it has, that property appraisals, including the sophisticated form of property appraisal it practices, are fallible.

He noted three MPAC practices that he said, “most irritate Ontario taxpayers”

First, MPAC does not take openness and transparency seriously enough. Secondly, MPAC does not “give enough respect to the very property market that its appraisal system is built upon.” He notes that when an actual sale price differs from the price MPAC’s sophisticated computer model would predict, MPAC reacts in suspicion that the sale was suspect instead of second guessing the computer modeling.

The third practice is “that MPAC does not give adequate respect to the decisions rendered by its appeal body, the ARB (Assessment Review Board).” As many people have claimed in public meetings and in Letters to the Editor to newspapers throughout the province, ARB decisions tend to apply only on the assessment year they are made.

“While it is legally bound to accept ARB decisions for the tax year appealed, MPAC has had a history of ignoring those decisions in the very next tax year. It has even done so for subsequent taxation years that use the same valuation date that the taxpayer had succeeded in showing to be wrong. The result has been that taxpayers are in a vicious cycle of assessment, appeal, victory, assessment, appeal, victory.

It is as though MPAC is saying ‘Gotcha’ to the frustrated taxpayers”.

This disrespect for ARB decisions occurs even the hearings are heavily slanted in MPAC’s favour, Marin contends, and he asks that the government of Ontario step in to make the hearings more fair to taxpayer. Marin says that not only do appellants have trouble obtaining the information they need to make their cases; they also face a system where the burden of proof is too onerous.

“It is not the case that MPAC’s assessments should be

treated as presumptively right [at review board hearings]; appraisers are in the guesstimate business, and there are enough indications of inaccurate information in MPAC files to put any presumption of accuracy on the run,” Marin wrote.

In the 30-year history of the Ontario Ombudsman’s office, there have never been so many complaints, received in such a short period of time about a single public agency.

“Our office was inundated with protests from disaffected citizens more than 3,700 of them,” Marin said.

MPAC has accepted most of the recommendations of the report and is committed to reporting back to the Ombudsman’s office on its progress towards implementing them within six months.

The ombudsman’s report, and MPAC’s response to it are available at www.ombudsman.on.ca

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