CANMORE – In a bid to improve the assessment of property values in Canmore, council recently approved establishing an in-house assessment branch that will work directly with the town’s finance department.
The hope is that by hiring a qualified in-house assessor, as well as an assistant, it will ensure property owners are paying the correct amount of taxes.
Administration also believes it will improve transparency for both the town and property owners because the assessor will be located in the community and be able to answer assessment related questions in a timely manner.
The new branch will cost the municipality $232,500 in 2020 once both positions are filled, about $77,000 more than what the town currently pays to contract out the work.
Katherine Van Keimpema, manager of financial services, acknowledged the service will cost the town more money, however, she said an in-house assessment branch is needed because the town has grown and the job now requires a minimum of two people to do the work.
“Property taxes are the number one source of income for the town, so we need to make sure we’re doing the best job we can,” said Van Keimpema.
“The other problem is that with the contractor we’re not their sole focus. They have a contract to more than one municipality and all municipalities need the same level of work done at exactly the same time of year.”
According to Van Keimpema, an in-house assessor will also be able to spend more time inspecting properties and gathering income-based assessment data to improve the accuracy of property assessments.
In 2016 it became apparent that the assessor hired by the town would be unable to fulfill their contract, leaving the town in a vulnerable position.
As a result, Van Keimpema suggested at the time that council consider bringing assessment services in-house. However, she cautioned it would take some time to implement, so in the interim the municipality continued to outsource the service.
In anticipation of bringing the service in-house, the 2018/19 budget included nearly $202,000 to initiate the change.
After reviewing the pros and cons of hiring an accredited assessor, including speaking with the senior manager of corporate services in Cochrane, which brought assessment services in-house several years ago, administration decided it would be the prudent thing to do.
According to the staff report, the International Association of Assessing Offices recommends at least one assessor for every 2,500 to 5,000 parcels of land. Canmore currently has 9,400 parcels of land on its tax roll, excluding parking stalls.
To ensure a smooth transition, the contracted assessor will continue to work with the Town and it’s in-house tax assessment team in 2019.
“As you will see, it’s a slightly higher total cost than what we currently have under contracted services, but I feel that it’s a significant increase in the level of service that we’re going to be receiving,” said Van Keimpema.
During the discussion Mayor John Borrowman sought assurances from Van Keimpema that the in-house assessor would be under the same legal obligations and professional requirements as a private assessor.
“The province actually audits the assessor’s work and the values that come in have to be within five per cent of what they say is the average sales number,” explained Van Keimpema.
“The province doesn’t just pick a municipality here and there to audit, they actually audit it right at the time the data is filed and if it’s outside the statistical parameters then the assessor and myself get notified and that has to be corrected.”
Following questions from councillors, council agreed with Van Keimpema’s recommendation and unanimously voted to establish an in-house assessment branch on Sept. 4.