Ombudsman investigates CVA process

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is under investigation by the Ontario Ombudsman, following repeated complaints from citizens and municipal governments over an alleged lack of transparency and integrity in the organization.

MPAC is the company responsible for assessing the value of every property in Ontario, for property taxation purposes. It has received harsh criticism from Flamborough residents and politicians over recent years, as skyrocketing assessments have pushed property taxes through the roof for many homeowners.

The investigation is welcome news for Ward 15 councilor Margaret McCarthy, who has been battling MPAC for several years.

"I have seniors on fixed incomes, living near subdivisions, who have had no upgrades to their property in 50 years, who are being taxed out of their homes," she said.

McCarthy organized a group of city officials to meet with MPAC in 2003, to discuss the city's concerns over the process and criteria used to assess properties.

She feels residents have been left in the dark as to how their assessed values have been arrived at, and is hopeful that the Ombudsman's report will result in greater transparency.

"We need less shock in the system," she said. "We need an evaluation system that people can predict. If it's fair, fine, but explain yourself."

McCarthy has tried many plans of attack to eliminate the skyrocketing assessments on Flamborough properties. She proposed a successful motion to city council in September 2003, to level out the peaks and valleys between districts. It was forwarded to the province for review.

The Ombudsman's investigation was launched due to a spike in complaints, according to Barbara Phoebalds, Media Relations Advisor for the Ombudsman's office. The office traditionally receives about 50 MPAC complaints each year. However, this year the office has received 75 complaints from citizens who recently opened their latest assessment. The Ombudsman was also concerned when the mayors of Sarnia and Ottawa called for an investigation on behalf of their citizens.

Since launching the investigation on October 17, the office has received 1,500 complaints, and counting. As a result, nearly the entire office is working to support the five investigators assigned to the mammoth task. The investigation is expected to take between four and six months, which is typical for an investigation of this magnitude. "It's a very complex issue," said Phoebalds.

The result of the probe will be a report, with findings and a list of recommendations, which will be presented to MPAC, the Ontario government and the public at large. Although the results aren't binding, "the Ombudsman has had a high success rate of seeing recommendations implemented," she said.

Although the investigation has been formally launched, a plan of action won't be devised until the complaints and submissions have been assessed.

"We'll see what issues are being brought forward, and build a plan around that," said Phoebalds, adding that the Ombudsman has full access to all of MPAC's records and personnel.

So far, the bulk of the allegations have claimed a lack of transparency within the system and a failure by MPAC to apply previous assessment revisions, forcing homeowners to appeal their assessment year after year.

"Homeowners in Ontario have complained to us that they are unaware of the criteria their property assessments are based on and the facts relating to their individual assessments," said Ombudsman Andre Marin, in a press release.

MPAC officials are welcoming the investigation, as a way to improve services.

"We want transparency and clarity on issues," said Debbie Zimmerman, Chair of the MPAC Board of Directors, in a press statement. "Our focus, as a new board, has been improving service delivery and being more open and transparent in our communications with our customers and stakeholders. We welcome this review and any recommendations the Ombudsman can make to help us in this area."

According to MPAC president Carl Isenberg, MPAC strives to maintain transparency by providing information on properties both online and in writing, so property owners can gauge the accuracy of their assessment. He added that Call Centre personnel are also on hand to outline the process used to evaluate a property's value, and explain the appeal process.

"At the end of the day, we want assessments to be accurate and we want taxpayers to be able to understand their assessment and the process," said Isenberg. "We are committed to continually improving our processes and reviewing the way we do things to ensure accuracy.

:If the Ombudsman finds a way we can do something better, we want to review it and implement it," he added.

The Ombudsman's office is still looking for submissions to assist its investigation. Any citizen with a concern about MPAC or the assessment process is asked to share their experience. Submitting a complaint to the Ombudsman is free and confidential. To participate, call 1-866-623-SORT (7678) or visit www.ombuds-man.on.ca and fill out a SORT Information Form online.

The Ombudsman, an officer of the Legislature since 1975, is independent of the political process and government administration. He or she investigates and resolves complaints about any provincial governmental organization.

Ombudsman investigates CVA process

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is under investigation by the Ontario Ombudsman, following repeated complaints from citizens and municipal governments over an alleged lack of transparency and integrity in the organization.

MPAC is the company responsible for assessing the value of every property in Ontario, for property taxation purposes. It has received harsh criticism from Flamborough residents and politicians over recent years, as skyrocketing assessments have pushed property taxes through the roof for many homeowners.

The investigation is welcome news for Ward 15 councilor Margaret McCarthy, who has been battling MPAC for several years.

"I have seniors on fixed incomes, living near subdivisions, who have had no upgrades to their property in 50 years, who are being taxed out of their homes," she said.

McCarthy organized a group of city officials to meet with MPAC in 2003, to discuss the city's concerns over the process and criteria used to assess properties.

She feels residents have been left in the dark as to how their assessed values have been arrived at, and is hopeful that the Ombudsman's report will result in greater transparency.

"We need less shock in the system," she said. "We need an evaluation system that people can predict. If it's fair, fine, but explain yourself."

McCarthy has tried many plans of attack to eliminate the skyrocketing assessments on Flamborough properties. She proposed a successful motion to city council in September 2003, to level out the peaks and valleys between districts. It was forwarded to the province for review.

The Ombudsman's investigation was launched due to a spike in complaints, according to Barbara Phoebalds, Media Relations Advisor for the Ombudsman's office. The office traditionally receives about 50 MPAC complaints each year. However, this year the office has received 75 complaints from citizens who recently opened their latest assessment. The Ombudsman was also concerned when the mayors of Sarnia and Ottawa called for an investigation on behalf of their citizens.

Since launching the investigation on October 17, the office has received 1,500 complaints, and counting. As a result, nearly the entire office is working to support the five investigators assigned to the mammoth task. The investigation is expected to take between four and six months, which is typical for an investigation of this magnitude. "It's a very complex issue," said Phoebalds.

The result of the probe will be a report, with findings and a list of recommendations, which will be presented to MPAC, the Ontario government and the public at large. Although the results aren't binding, "the Ombudsman has had a high success rate of seeing recommendations implemented," she said.

Although the investigation has been formally launched, a plan of action won't be devised until the complaints and submissions have been assessed.

"We'll see what issues are being brought forward, and build a plan around that," said Phoebalds, adding that the Ombudsman has full access to all of MPAC's records and personnel.

So far, the bulk of the allegations have claimed a lack of transparency within the system and a failure by MPAC to apply previous assessment revisions, forcing homeowners to appeal their assessment year after year.

"Homeowners in Ontario have complained to us that they are unaware of the criteria their property assessments are based on and the facts relating to their individual assessments," said Ombudsman Andre Marin, in a press release.

MPAC officials are welcoming the investigation, as a way to improve services.

"We want transparency and clarity on issues," said Debbie Zimmerman, Chair of the MPAC Board of Directors, in a press statement. "Our focus, as a new board, has been improving service delivery and being more open and transparent in our communications with our customers and stakeholders. We welcome this review and any recommendations the Ombudsman can make to help us in this area."

According to MPAC president Carl Isenberg, MPAC strives to maintain transparency by providing information on properties both online and in writing, so property owners can gauge the accuracy of their assessment. He added that Call Centre personnel are also on hand to outline the process used to evaluate a property's value, and explain the appeal process.

"At the end of the day, we want assessments to be accurate and we want taxpayers to be able to understand their assessment and the process," said Isenberg. "We are committed to continually improving our processes and reviewing the way we do things to ensure accuracy.

:If the Ombudsman finds a way we can do something better, we want to review it and implement it," he added.

The Ombudsman's office is still looking for submissions to assist its investigation. Any citizen with a concern about MPAC or the assessment process is asked to share their experience. Submitting a complaint to the Ombudsman is free and confidential. To participate, call 1-866-623-SORT (7678) or visit www.ombuds-man.on.ca and fill out a SORT Information Form online.

The Ombudsman, an officer of the Legislature since 1975, is independent of the political process and government administration. He or she investigates and resolves complaints about any provincial governmental organization.

Ombudsman investigates CVA process

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is under investigation by the Ontario Ombudsman, following repeated complaints from citizens and municipal governments over an alleged lack of transparency and integrity in the organization.

MPAC is the company responsible for assessing the value of every property in Ontario, for property taxation purposes. It has received harsh criticism from Flamborough residents and politicians over recent years, as skyrocketing assessments have pushed property taxes through the roof for many homeowners.

The investigation is welcome news for Ward 15 councilor Margaret McCarthy, who has been battling MPAC for several years.

"I have seniors on fixed incomes, living near subdivisions, who have had no upgrades to their property in 50 years, who are being taxed out of their homes," she said.

McCarthy organized a group of city officials to meet with MPAC in 2003, to discuss the city's concerns over the process and criteria used to assess properties.

She feels residents have been left in the dark as to how their assessed values have been arrived at, and is hopeful that the Ombudsman's report will result in greater transparency.

"We need less shock in the system," she said. "We need an evaluation system that people can predict. If it's fair, fine, but explain yourself."

McCarthy has tried many plans of attack to eliminate the skyrocketing assessments on Flamborough properties. She proposed a successful motion to city council in September 2003, to level out the peaks and valleys between districts. It was forwarded to the province for review.

The Ombudsman's investigation was launched due to a spike in complaints, according to Barbara Phoebalds, Media Relations Advisor for the Ombudsman's office. The office traditionally receives about 50 MPAC complaints each year. However, this year the office has received 75 complaints from citizens who recently opened their latest assessment. The Ombudsman was also concerned when the mayors of Sarnia and Ottawa called for an investigation on behalf of their citizens.

Since launching the investigation on October 17, the office has received 1,500 complaints, and counting. As a result, nearly the entire office is working to support the five investigators assigned to the mammoth task. The investigation is expected to take between four and six months, which is typical for an investigation of this magnitude. "It's a very complex issue," said Phoebalds.

The result of the probe will be a report, with findings and a list of recommendations, which will be presented to MPAC, the Ontario government and the public at large. Although the results aren't binding, "the Ombudsman has had a high success rate of seeing recommendations implemented," she said.

Although the investigation has been formally launched, a plan of action won't be devised until the complaints and submissions have been assessed.

"We'll see what issues are being brought forward, and build a plan around that," said Phoebalds, adding that the Ombudsman has full access to all of MPAC's records and personnel.

So far, the bulk of the allegations have claimed a lack of transparency within the system and a failure by MPAC to apply previous assessment revisions, forcing homeowners to appeal their assessment year after year.

"Homeowners in Ontario have complained to us that they are unaware of the criteria their property assessments are based on and the facts relating to their individual assessments," said Ombudsman Andre Marin, in a press release.

MPAC officials are welcoming the investigation, as a way to improve services.

"We want transparency and clarity on issues," said Debbie Zimmerman, Chair of the MPAC Board of Directors, in a press statement. "Our focus, as a new board, has been improving service delivery and being more open and transparent in our communications with our customers and stakeholders. We welcome this review and any recommendations the Ombudsman can make to help us in this area."

According to MPAC president Carl Isenberg, MPAC strives to maintain transparency by providing information on properties both online and in writing, so property owners can gauge the accuracy of their assessment. He added that Call Centre personnel are also on hand to outline the process used to evaluate a property's value, and explain the appeal process.

"At the end of the day, we want assessments to be accurate and we want taxpayers to be able to understand their assessment and the process," said Isenberg. "We are committed to continually improving our processes and reviewing the way we do things to ensure accuracy.

:If the Ombudsman finds a way we can do something better, we want to review it and implement it," he added.

The Ombudsman's office is still looking for submissions to assist its investigation. Any citizen with a concern about MPAC or the assessment process is asked to share their experience. Submitting a complaint to the Ombudsman is free and confidential. To participate, call 1-866-623-SORT (7678) or visit www.ombuds-man.on.ca and fill out a SORT Information Form online.

The Ombudsman, an officer of the Legislature since 1975, is independent of the political process and government administration. He or she investigates and resolves complaints about any provincial governmental organization.