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Business leaders take on the tax man: final report of a three-part series examining the northern tax grab.

The executive of North Bay's Downtown Improvement Area (DIA) is considering a mass assessment review board appeal of every commercial property in the city's core.

Calling the province's assessment system "a block to economic development," DIA executive director John Wilson says the association is hoping to eventually change provincial "claw back" provisions. The "claw back" legislation prevents property owners who win an assessment appeal from being granted any tax reduction because the area's tax base is not large enough.

"The claw back provisions make it impossible to continue with accelerating market values," says DIA Wilson. "You can win the appeal, but you're paying the same tax."

Critics of the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. (MPAC) say the provincial government's attempt to harmonize assessment bases across Ontario under a fair market value tax assessment has failed, and has brought southern Ontario property values into a depressed market in the North.

MPAC administers a province-wide property assessment system for the Ontario government and provides the annual assessment rolls used by municipalities to calculate property and education taxes.

Wilson is recommending to the DIA's economic development committee to choose a mass appeal once they have elected a new board by early December. The final decision will be up to the economic development and public policy committee of the new board in January. They will put together a focus group to study the problem and educate property owners on the complexity of the issue.

His recommendation to the board is to extend the DIA's reach to all downtown commercial properties--about 400 to 500 buildings and millions of dollars in assessments--since the DIA is limited in using funds outside its defined area. Money could be pooled together from property owners for an estimated budget starting at $30,000 and probably escalating up to $100,000 to hire "high profile" legal representation to go before the Assessment Review Board, says Wilson.

"We just don't have the tax base ... to cover the assessment shortfalls. How they can talk about increasing year-after-year the property values of market values in downtowns when they've been on a decreasing value."

Wilson estimates a majority of downtown North Bay commercial properties are "100-per-cent" overassessed and cites one property being assessed at $189,000, which sold for $55,000, another assessed for $290,000 and sold for $140,000.

Another North Bay task-force of business and property owners is reformulating in December, seeking to exert pressure this winter at Queen's Park lobbying for reforms to the method evaluating commercial and industrial properties.

Member Gord Cardwell, president of C & C Properties Inc. in North Bay, says what is considered fair market value by the Pickering-based MPAC does not reflect the depressed market of the Northern Ontario economy.

Surprisingly, he says, few people understand how their tax assessment is calculated or bother to challenge it.

By IAN ROSS

Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:475
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