Editorial: Flip flop

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Receipt of property assessment notices from BC Assessment in January usually prompts a couple of simple questions.

Will one’s assessment go up or go down? Is the change in line with one’s neighbourhood or recent real estate activity? 

An active real estate market for a couple of years saw Gulf Islands values rise quite dramatically, and particularly on Salt Spring. This year’s assessed values reflect the market moderation that started occurring last year. 

What is curious about the Salt Spring numbers on 2020 notices is a dramatic change in how the land and improvements sections are valued, after the opposite change was implemented and defended by BC Assessment just one year ago. Last year residential property owners saw their buildings suddenly devalued and their land values bumped sky high. This year BC Assessment did a complete about face on the 2019 policy. 

When questioned about the phenomenon in 2019, the agency’s response was that land on Salt Spring had been undervalued in the past, so it was time for some catch-up. This year BC Assessment states it reversed its policy because property owners expressed concerns about what had occurred the year before. 

As BC Assessment personnel told the Driftwood for a story in this week’s paper, the land/improvement value split doesn’t really matter. It’s the total number that counts. That may be true. However, such dramatic swings in policy from one year to the next on what should be a fairly straightforward matter calls into question the credibility of an agency that speaks with such authority about the value of land and improvements in the province and our region.

One could say it doesn’t matter what number BC Assessment comes up with for a particular property, and for many people it is probably irrelevant. It doesn’t always affect a sale price, for example. And a rising or falling assessment does not mean one’s property taxes will go up or down by the same percentage since local governments set their budgets independently. But if one’s property value goes up substantially more than the “average” increase, then that property owner could be in for an unpleasant surprise when the tax bill arrives later in the year. 

Anyone feeling their property assessment or the land/improvement split isn’t ringing true can make their case to an assessor by phone or email, and file a formal appeal, if necessary.

BC Assessment has proven it does change its mind; if not this year then maybe the next.

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