ASSESSMENT APPEAL BOARD
1994 ANNUAL REPORT
The Assessment Appeal Board is established pursuant to the Assessment Act, R.S.B.C., Chapter 21, Part V, and is responsible for the administration and hearing of appeals arising from the Courts of Revision.
The current system of property assessment, including the appeal procedure to the Courts of Revision and the Assessment Appeal Board, was introduced to British Columbia in 1974. There have been many amendments to the Assessment Act and the Regulations since that time, but the basic structure is much the same; the British Columbia Assessment Authority has responsibility for determining property assessments throughout the Province and the Courts of Revision and the Assessment Appeal Board have responsibility for hearing appeals from those assessments. Amendments to the Act in 1992, which brought considerable change to the administration of the system including the introduction of an Annual Assessment Roll, had a substantial effect on the Board's administration and the procedures leading to hearings. 1994 was the first full year under the Annual Roll.
Effective March 31, 1993, the Board office moved from Maple Ridge to its present location in Richmond. The Richmond office offers excellent facilities with two hearing rooms, one of which is conference size, two executive offices and two small conference rooms. The response from the Assessment Community to the move has been extremely positive.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The following aims and objectives, formulated in 1993, have continued to be the Board's priorities:
1. To provide parties with impartial, fair and professional adjudications.
2. To strive for a consistent quality in the hearing process and decisions through training and continuing education for Board Members.
3. To maintain a high level of quality services.
4. With consideration for the new assessment appeal calendar, to schedule and complete an optimum number of appeals within 12 months following the filing of appeals.
5. To provide the parties with written decisions as soon as possible following the hearings.
6. With consideration for budgetary concerns and the new assessment appeal calendar:
(a) to implement procedural changes to reduce costs and to complete adjudications in a timely fashion, and
(b) to schedule as many hearings as possible in the new Assessment Appeal Board offices in Richmond.
Amendments to the Assessment Act proclaimed in July 1992, brought in an annual roll in place of the previous biennial roll and modified the Assessment calendar. Under the revised calendar, appellants must file appeals to the Assessment Appeal Board by April 30 (previously December 31) and the Board must send notice of the appeals to the affected
parties by May 30 (previously February 16). Following the processing of the appeals, setting of hearing dates and locations and notification of the parties, the Board is able to begin hearing the current Roll appeals in mid-July.
In previous years, the Board was able to dispose of most of the appeals before the next property assessment notices were issued to property owners. With the change to an annual roll, the Board is striving to complete the appeals within an effective period of five months, July through November, in order for the Assessment Authority to reflect the decision in the next assessment roll. Property owners are particularly concerned to know the result of the appeals prior to the next assessment and expect to see changes reflected in the new roll.
The reality over the past two years is that the Board has been able to complete most of the residential appeal hearings from July to December but there is insufficient time to hear the other appeals prior to the issuance of the new Roll.
In 1993, in response to the Annual Roll and budgetary concerns, the Board undertook a review of the Rules of Practice and Procedure. As these Rules have a considerable impact on other members of the Assessment community, the Board arranged for consultations to elicit opinions and shared a draft of the proposed Rules for circulation and discussion. The responses were thoughtful and many were incorporated. In addition to assisting the Board to ensure that the Rules would meet the needs of the community, the process was effective in establishing contacts and lines of communication.
The Board has continued to receive comments, critiques and recommendations from members of the Assessment community. Perhaps the most significant procedure to come from the new Rules is the practice of holding Pre-hearing Conferences for some appeals, to canvass issues and determine procedures in advance of the hearings. These Pre-hearings have usually been conducted by telephone conference call, presided over by the Chair of the Board or a Board Member designated by the Chair. Through these conferences the Board has had on-going consultations with parties which have benefited the Board in adapting procedures to best reflect the interests of the parties and the efficiency of the hearing process.
Comments from the community are encouraged. The new Rules have been in effect for one and half years and the Board is open to suggestions for amendments. The main concerns continue to be effective use of hearing days and ensuring that parties are sufficiently aware of the case to be met so as to ensure a fair hearing process.
The Chair of the Board was asked by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to chair a committee to review the fee structure for appeals. The committee consisted of representatives from Financial Programmes (MA), Policy and Planning (MA), Courts of Revision (MA) and the Assessment Appeal Board; Treasury Board staff attended some meetings to provide information. In June 1994, the committee arranged a public consultation meeting consisting of representatives from the B.C. Assessment Authority, the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Canadian Property Tax Association.
As part of the fact-finding mission, the committee conducted a survey of other provincial appeal boards and has put together a concise statement of the nature of the assessment appeal processes across Canada.
The committee expects to submit a report in 1995.
Over the past year, the Board has had an opportunity to participate in discussions with many sectors of the community including the Assessment Authority, legal counsel from the private bar, property agents and the Canadian Property Tax Association. The Board has continued to participate in discussions with various departments of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
APPEALS AND STATED CASES
In 1994, 4,766 folios were appealed by 1,976 appellants. (Of the 1,976 appeals, 989 were residential; of these, 211 were Assessor appeals in the Chilliwack area.) This compares to 10,274 folios (1,701 appellants in 1993) in 2,176 folios (344 appellants) in 1992 and 13,631 folios (2,433 appellants) in 1991, which was the last full biennial roll.
Appendix 1 shows a breakdown for the 1994 Appeals of the number of folios and appeals by area (p. i), the number of folios appealed by area and classification (p. ii) and the number of appeals pending as of December 31, 1994 by area and classification (p. iii).
By end of 1994, 1,139 appeals, or 57.6% of the 1994 roll appeals were pending (App 1, p.iv). By the end of 1994, approximately 18% of the 1993 Roll appeals were pending (App 1, p.v). Many of the 1993 appeals are waiting for "test cases" or are dependent on previous years' appeals which are still under adjudication either before the Board or the Courts.
There were a total of 554 hearing days scheduled during 1994, of which 317 proceeded and 238 did not proceed due to adjournments, cancellations or withdrawals. In 1993, 212 days proceeded; in 1992, 205 days proceeded; in 1991, 403 days proceeded.
Hearings for the 1994 Roll commenced July 12, 1994. From July 12, to the end of December, the Board scheduled 323, 213 days related to the 1994 Roll; of 213, 144 proceeded to hearings and 69 days were cancelled due to adjournments, recommendations or withdrawals. In 1993, from mid July to the end of the year, the Board scheduled 428 days of hearings of which 198 proceeded and 230 were cancelled. There are two points to be noted from these figures:
i) in 1993 the Board was able to schedule more hearing days mainly due to the use of single member panels and single members with a Consultant. These panels were used mainly in residential appeals which are scheduled with as many as six appeals per day on the assumption that at least 50% will not proceed. As discussed below, the Board has had to discontinue the use of Consultants which, in turn, has restricted the Board's ability to assign single member panels due to the potential heavy work load.
ii) in 1994, 60% of hearing days scheduled from July to December proceeded as compared to only 46% the previous year. The increased efficiency results from the Board's use of Pre-hearing conferences, enhanced computer programmes in the Registry and the fact that the Registrar has been screening appeals prior to scheduling.
As previously noted, with the appeal deadline of April 30 and the requirement for sending notification of appeals to affected parties, the earliest the Board can commence hearings for the current Roll is mid-July. Due to the sittings of the Courts of Revision which require the participation of the B.C. Assessment Authority personnel and other members of the Assessment community, the Board is unable to hold many hearings during the months of January, February and March. Further, due to the statutory obligations of the Assessment Authority, the Board is often restricted in scheduling in October, November and December.
One result of the scheduling difficulty is that most hearing days scheduled are between July and December. Because of the heavy load of hearing days, Board Members have not been able to complete the decisions as quickly as desired. The timeliness of decisions is a major concern to the Board and the participants.
1994 was the first full year of hearings during an Annual Roll. The scheduling difficulties discussed above have become a major concern for the Board and these have been discussed with the main participants in Board hearings. The Board is looking forward to further consultation with the Assessment community to address these concerns.
Appeals from the decisions of the Board are by way of Stated Case to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. For the 1993 Roll, there were 18 Stated Cases filed. There is 1 outstanding Stated Case for the 1992 Roll, 4 for the 1991 Roll, 1 for the 1990 Roll, and 1 for the 1987 Roll. As of December 31, 1994, there were no Stated Cases filed for the 1994 Roll appeals. During 1994, one Judicial Review was filed concerning a 1993 appeal but it was withdrawn in favour of a Stated Case.
The Stated Case which most affected the Board was a challenge to the Board's use of a Board Member as a Consultant to the designated Board Member. The Supreme Court determined that this use of a Consultant was not appropriate; Leave to Appeal to the Court of Appeal was denied. Since the filing of this Stated Case in March 1994, the Board has discontinued the use of Consultants.
Appendix 2 shows the totals for the budgets and actual expenditures for the last three years and the budget for 1994/95.
Recognizing the need to reduce expenses, beginning in 1993, the Board effected a number of changes:
a) recommendations and withdrawals are dealt with by desk orders rather than by hearing, thus reducing actual hearing time and travel expenses;
b) pre-hearing conferences have been employed resulting in orders relating for exchange of documents, as well as any other orders which assist in the speedy resolution of the hearing, thus reducing actual hearing time and reducing the number of requests for adjournments;
c) adjournment applications are to be made at least two weeks in advance of the hearing, with reasons, thus reducing the number of adjournment applications made at hearings and reducing the number of lost hearing days;
d) the Board has been able to make use of the hearing rooms at the Board office in Richmond thus reducing conference room costs.
In the last Annual Report, the Board indicated that one cost-saving measure was the use of consultants sitting with a single-member as chair. The result of the Stated Case referred to above is that the Board has had to discontinue the use of consultants. Until such time as either the Act or the Rules of Practice and Procedure are amended the Board has discontinued this practice. The Board is considering an amendment to the Rules, in accord with the observations made by the Supreme Court of B.C. However, those comments were sufficiently limiting of the role of the Consultant that the Board may conclude that an amendment is not of assistance.
At present there are eighteen Board members, including the Chair and Vice-Chair, who are appointed by Order-In-Council.
The Chair receives an annual salary. Remuneration for Board Members follows the Directive for Boards and Commissions and the public service policies for travel and other allowances. The per diems at present are:
Board Members: $250.00 per day
Board Members appointed as panel chair: $275.00 per day
Appendix 3 contains a list of the Board Member appointments showing the regional representation, terms of appointment and gender distribution. Effective March 31, 1995 the appointments for twelve Board Members, including the Chair and Vice-Chair, expire.
BOARD MEETINGS AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Full Board meetings and training sessions were held in August, October and December 1994. The meetings addressed Board business as well as educational presentations which included conduct of hearings, evidence and expert opinions, legal issues, real property appraisal and decision writing techniques, including gender neutral and equal language. Conflict of Interest concerns were also addressed.
Continuing education and consultation is very important to the quality and consistency of the Board's decisions. At the August and December 1994 Board Meetings, the Board brought in experts in Administrative Law to address issues of general concern to quasi-judicial tribunals and to discuss specific issues of concern to Board Members. The Board was very pleased to welcome David Morris, Executive Director of Local Government Services, MA, who spoke to the December Board Meeting on issues relating to tax structures.
At the December meeting, the Board also had an opportunity to meet with Mr. Robert Shorthouse, Chair of the Expropriation Compensation Board. Mr. Shorthouse spoke on the procedures before the ECB with particular emphasis on the discovery provisions.
At present the Board employs four full-time employees, including the Chair, two auxiliary office employees and six on-call Recording Secretaries, all of whom are excluded from membership in the B.C. Government Employees Union under the Public Service Labour Relations Act, R.S.B.C. Chapter 346, section 1.
Appendix 4 is an Organization Chart for the office.
The six Recording Secretaries are located in Vernon, Victoria, Mission, White Rock, Coquitlam and Surrey. In addition to their hearing duties, they are called in to work in the office to assist with decision processing and other office duties as the need arises.
In September 1994, Joan Rogers successfully competed for the position of Registrar, Management Level 1. Prior to the appointment, she had been acting Registrar. She has been instrumental in initiating new procedures to assist the Board in meeting the demands of the Annual Roll. She has had assistance from Laura Maxwell, Registration and Systems Administrator, who has worked for the Board for over four years. Joan Rogers and Laura Maxwell have worked closely with the Board's Computer Analyst to upgrade the computer programmes.
Since April 1994, Corrine Pick has been acting Financial and Administrative Clerk, acting as Secretary to the Board and providing assistance to the Chair in the scheduling of Pre-hearing Conferences and appointments and in general secretarial functions.
Ina Vonk and Jennifer McAdam were hired through Kelly Services to assist with the workload during Appeal Registration in the Spring. After their contracts expired, they applied to the Board and were hired as auxiliary on-call employees. In addition to their office duties, they perform duties of Recording Secretaries in hearings.
The Board is proud of the work the office staff have undertaken over the past year in meeting the demands of a busy office as well as the demands of the Annual Roll. The Board is particularly pleased with the new computer system. In addition to improving the office operations, the new computer programme allows for detailed tracking of appeals which is of great benefit to Board Members.
The office staff have continued to be conscious of financial restraints and to balance those concerns with our public mandate. Through their efforts, quality service has been greatly enhanced.
The Board would like to express gratitude to Maureen Trottier, MA, who has provided invaluable assistance as our liaison with the Ministry. The Board would also like to thank David Morris, Executive Director of Local Government Services, MA, Peter Bray, Financial Operations Manager, MA, Lorne Bulmer and Hugh Chamberlain, Human Resources, MA, and Michael Chadwick, Information Services Branch. The Board has also received considerable assistance from Lori Wanamaker, Director, Financial Programs Division, and Jim MacAulay, Manager, Financial Planning and Analysis.
In the coming year, the Board is looking forward to consultation with members of the Assessment community to address the concerns of the participants in the appeal process. In particular, the Board is looking forward to developing procedures which will allow the Board to make more effective use of hearing days in order to provide more timely appeals and decisions.