Central Saanich residents living in a local First Nations community question why BC Assessment is comparing their mobile homes to mobile homes outside of it, but officials say they were merely following existing laws.
Wendy Lidgate, Carl Bolger and Carol McNie are among Central Saanich residents who are leasing mobile homes in Country Park Village, a complex inside the boundaries of the Tsawout First Nation, one of the five WSANEC communities on southern Vancouver Island.
They are wondering why their property assessments have gone up by significant margins, one year after a board had reduced assessments for residents following an appeal, and when new assessment figures show no change in assessments values for the municipality.
Homes not backing onto Highway 17 saw their land increase by $20,000 and all homes saw increases in their building assessments, when 2020 assessments went out, said Lidgate. Homes not backing onto Highway 17 saw total increases of over $40,000, with some over $70,000, $80,000 and even $90,000, she added. Homes backing onto the highway saw building increases over $20,000, with land assessments dropping $1,300.
Consider the home of Lidgate, whose assessments rose by $42,400 over two years, with her home currently valued at $141,000. “Manufactured homes do not appreciate like this,” she said. “Nothing in my home has changed.”
Lidgate said her mobile home is 29 years old, sits on cement blocks with very little insulation in the walls, and has an open carport (rather than garage). By her own research, she has found mobile homes in the area of the same vintage but with full foundations, some with garages and full foundations, with assessments well under $100,000.
Lidgate and the others are especially upset about the fact that their properties are compared to mobile homes in Sidney.
“Because we are on Native land, we cannot compare our property to sales within our land,” said Bolger. “So it has to be compared to people who own their land, which is just silly.”
Citing a number of differences, Bolger said Country Park Village is not comparable to Sidney’s Summergate Village in terms of its amenities and other features.
Gerry Marolla, deputy assessor at BC Assessment Vancouver Island region, said the authority is following prevailing laws as passed by the Tsawout First Nation. Marolla said BC Assessment is aware that Central Saanich properties are not fee-simple. “But it doesn’t matter, because their laws say that we have to do that. So we value it as fee simple off reserve and we have to value the land associated with their units. So they get assessed for their improvements, plus they get assessed for the land.”
Bill Dawson, manager of First Nations Customers with BC Assessment, said that Tsawout First Nation is a signatory of the federal Financial Management Act, which allows the band to implement taxation laws, subject to approval from the First Nations Tax Commission. The federal commission’s provisions mirror provincial law, so even if Tsawout First Nation were to opt out of the Financial Management Act, provincial legislation would still apply, said Dawson.
Dawson acknowledged that lease arrangements vary across First Nations communities.
“If BC Assessment or the assessment service provider was required to assess the actual interest that existed on reserves, it would be a far more difficult exercise,” he said. “So instead of trying to do that exercise, we assess them based on an even playing field, because at the end of the day, this is about sharing the tax burden of the required revenue that needs to be generated.” Whether you have two properties side-by-side, one with a 99-year-lease, the other with a five-year-lease, the services for each really cost the same amount, said Dawson.
Another issue that irks the Country Park Village residents is the fact that their assessments are going up, even though assessments for Central Saanich as a whole have stagnated.
Marolla said it is not as simple as it sounds. “We are looking at the market value of properties [in any given year]. Yes, Central Saanich didn’t go up, Sidney went up, North Saanich…either stayed flat or went down slightly,” he said, adding that the Saanich Peninsula is a desirable location.
Dawson said every assessment role is independent of the year previous. “It is based on the sales evidence that existed in the previous year,” he said. “The market is fluid, the evidence changes every year.”
So what do the residents plan to do? Lidgate said a number of residents plan to file appeals, but if last year’s successful appeal offers any evidence, the process is complex and can be discouraging, especially for individuals who might not have the technical skills. With no guarantee of a successful appeal, many residents will face financial hardships under the higher assessments.
Residents can appeal within 60 days of receiving their assessment notices.
Lidgate said some 70 of the 177 homes in the park filed appeals last year and the assessment review board eventually reduced the assessment on the land by 30 per cent.
Comments from Marolla, however, suggest dissatisfaction with that outcome.
“The assessment review board, which hears complains for Tsawout First Nation, rendered an opinion on Country Park, which in all honesty was inconsistent with the way we treated other properties,” he said.
For example, he pointed out the review board gave all residents a break because of light pollution stemming from nearby highway billboards, regardless of where they lived in the park.
The board also considered location and the lack of amenities in its review.
“So when we set the role, we staggered the light pollution [adjustment] from the residents that were the worst affected to the least affected,” he said. “All the other adjustments that the board adjudicated were applied. The only one we varied was the adjustment for light pollution. That is the long and short of it.”
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