ASSESSMENT APPEAL BOARD
1995 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 Board's offices are located in Richmond and contain two hearing rooms which are frequently used for the Lower Mainland hearings.
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. The Board and the assessment community have now experienced two full years of the Annual Roll. For the Board, the most significant effect of the annual roll is the fact that, given the existing resources, the Board cannot dispose of the current year appeals prior to the issuance of the next Roll.
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 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 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 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. Appellants must file appeals to the Assessment Appeal Board by April 30 and the Board must send notice of the appeals to the affected parties by May 30. In mid-July, 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. This means that the Board has only five months in which to hear and dispose of the current year appeals prior to the issuance of the next assessment roll.
Based on the 1994 figures, the Board was able to dispose of approximately 35% of the current year appeals, which included most of the single family residential appeals, prior to the issuance of the 1995 assessment roll. With current resources, assessment calendar and appeal levels, the Board will continue to operate on a backlog.
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 Board has continued to receive comments and recommendations from members of the assessment community.
One of the most significant procedures adopted from the new Rules is the practice of holding Pre-hearing Conferences to canvass issues and determine procedures in advance of the hearings. These Pre-hearings usually have been conducted by telephone conferences, presided over by the Chair of the Board or a Board Member designated by the Chair. Over the past few years, the form and content of the pre-hearing procedures has been altered to suit the needs of the particular parties and to increase the efficiency of the hearing process. 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. Comments from the community are encouraged.
Over the past year, the Board has had an opportunity to participate in seminars and discussions with many sectors of the community including Continuing Legal Education, the Canadian Property Tax Association, the Assessment Authority, legal counsel from the private bar and property agents. The Board has continued to participate in discussions with various departments of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
In the 1994 Annual Report under "Consultations", it was reported that the Board anticipated completing a submission on the fees level during 1995; this committee work has been put on hold and it is anticipated that there will be a submission in 1996.
In December 1995, the Board participated in a facilitated meeting with many sectors of the assessment community to explore interests in the availability and accessibility of information on assessment appeals; it is anticipated that a proposed computer programme will be developed which will have some on-line features.
In April 1995, the Chair of the Board attended the annual conferences of the National Institute of Administrative Tribunals and the Council of Canadian Administrative Tribunals, three day sessions which gathered members of Administrative Tribunals from across Canada. Following those conferences, through the initiative of the Chair and other Administrative Tribunal Chairs in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, the B.C. Council of Administrative Tribunals has been formed. The Council is planning to hold an educational conference/seminar in the Fall of 1996 to address training and educational issues as well as to provide a forum for the exchange of information between tribunals. The Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board continue to be active participants in the Council.
APPEALS, HEARING SCHEDULING, AND STATED CASES
Pages i through vii of Appendix 1 contain various statistics on appeals for the 1995 Roll with comparison figures from previous years.
In 1995, 5,967 folios were appealed by 1,286 appellants. Appendix 1, p. i, shows a breakdown of the appeals and folios by assessment area; Appendix 1, p. ii, shows the number of folios appealed by area and classification.
Appendix 1, p. iii, shows the number of appeals and folios per assessment area for the years 1993, 1994 and 1995. In 1991, which was the last full biennial roll, 13,631 folios were appealed by 2,433 appellants; in the second year of that Roll, 2,176 folios were appealed by 344 appellants.
Appendix 1, p. iv, shows the number of 1995 Roll appeals pending as of December 31, 1994 by area and classification. Appendix 1,
pp. v to vii show the total outstanding appeals by area for the 1993, 1994 and 1995 Roll years.
By the end of 1995, there were outstanding appeals for the past three years of the annual roll as follows:
1995 appeals, 849 or 66%;
1994 appeals, 698 or 34.8%;
1993 appeals, 249 or 14.6%.
There are appeals outstanding from the biennial rolls. Many of the outstanding appeals are waiting for "test cases" or are dependent on previous years' appeals which are still under adjudication either before the Board or the Superior Courts. Others are being set for hearing in 1996.
There were approximately 531 hearing days scheduled during 1995, of which approximately 279 proceeded and 252 did not proceed due to adjournments, recommendations or withdrawals. The figure of 279 days equates to approximately 792 Board Member days. In 1994, 554 hearings days were scheduled and 315 days proceeded; in 1993, 212 days proceeded.
ii) Hearing scheduling
The Board has continued to experience difficulties in scheduling hearings during January, February and March (Courts of Revision time) and August (prime holiday time for hearing participants); there are also some timing difficulties from October to December, due to the Assessment Authority's statutory obligations. The Board is still attempting to reduce the considerable backlog from previous years. The scheduling difficulties, which emanate from the transition to the annual roll, are a major concern for the Board and have been the topic of ongoing discussions with the main participants in Board hearings.
iii) Stated Cases
Appeals from the decisions of the Board are by way of Stated Case to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. For the 1995 Roll there were 10 Stated Cases filed, for 1994 there were 16 Stated Cases filed and for 1993, there were 27 Stated Cases filed.
Appendix 2 shows the totals for the budgets and actual expenditures for the last three years and the budget for 1995/96.
Recognizing the need to reduce expenses, beginning in 1993, the Board has 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 for exchange of documents, as well as 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 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; and
e) more hearings are being conducted by single member panels and single members sitting with a Consultant.
In the last Annual Report, the Board reported on a Stated Case which ruled that the Board's use of a Board Member/consultant to sit with a single-member panel was not appropriate. Accordingly, the Board discontinued the practice. However, a more recent Supreme Court decision has qualified the previous decision with the result that the Board is again able to make use of consultants. This allows the Board to reduce the number of paid hearing days while maintaining a high level of quality in the decisions.
TIMELINESS OF DECISIONS
During 1995, the Board has made a concerted, successful, effort to reduce the time between hearings and the release of the decisions. However, the timeliness of decisions remains a major concern to the Board and the participants. The Board will soon be testing "time limited" decisions with a view to adopting a time limit in the Rules of Practice and Procedure.
At present there are eighteen Board members, including the Chair and Vice-Chair, who are appointed by Order-In-Council. During 1995, the following Members retired from the Board: E.L. Burnham, Roderick MacDonald, James Dow, Jordan Watson and Laurent Rivard. Effective March 31, 1995, the following new Members were appointed:
Ann Marshall (Vancouver), Pat Musters (Nanaimo), Bernie Leong (Burnaby) and John Simpson (Abbotsford). Also effective March 31, 1995, Charles Burtinshaw stood down as Vice-Chair and Cheryl Adams was appointed in his place.
Appendix 3 contains a list of the Board Member appointments showing the regional representation, terms of appointment and gender distribution.
BOARD MEETINGS AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Full Board Meetings provide Board Members with opportunities to exchange views on recent cases, to discuss appraisals principles and issues which arise during hearings and to participate in training and educational seminars. They also provide opportunities for discussion of the Board's Rules of Practice and Procedure. These meetings enhance the Board's ability to continue to provide quality and consistency in hearing procedures and decision making. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, the Board has not been able to hold as many full Board meetings as in past years.
Introductory sessions for the new Board Members were held in April 1995. Full Board meetings and training sessions were held in May and September 1995. In May, among other topics, the Board held a session on expert witnesses and had as a guest speaker Brian Wallace, Q.C., who frequently appears as counsel before the Board.
For the September session, the Board organized a decision-writing seminar through Simon Fraser University and invited the Expropriation Compensation Board to join and share expenses. The training session was well presented and informative. The session also provided a good opportunity for members of the two Boards to exchange experiences.
The composition of the Board staff over the past two or three years has been six full-time employees, including the Chair, and six on-call Recording Secretaries. All of the Board's staff are excluded from membership in the B.C. Government Employees Union under the Public Service Labour Relations Act, R.S.B.C. Chapter 346, s. 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, appeal registration and other office duties as the need arises.
Effective July 31, 1995, Corrine Pick successfully competed for the position of Financial and Administrative Clerk.
During the summer and fall of 1995, the Board experienced a reduction in staff due to budgetary constraints and staff relocations. In September 1995, Joan Rogers, Registrar (and office manager), transferred to Victoria; she continued to work part-time for the Board until December 1995. Also in September 1995, Laura Maxwell, Registration and Systems Administrator, left the Board for another position. Ms. Maxwell was the Board's longest serving employee.
Corrine Pick, as the most experience member of the staff, has been relied upon heavily by the office administration, the Ministry and the Board Members to assist the Board through a very difficult time. Ms. Pick responded eagerly and efficiently to the challenge created by the loss of experienced staff. The Board is very fortunate to have had her well-rounded experience and her willingness to instruct others and problem solve.
The Board is grateful to the recording secretaries and temporary Hearing Coordinator who also responded well to the challenges of reduced staffing and who have demonstrated diligence and loyalty to the Board under trying circumstances.
The office staff have continued to be conscious of financial restraints and have balanced those concerns with our public mandate. Through their efforts, quality service has been maintained.
The Board would like to express continuing gratitude to Maureen Trottier, Ministry of Municipal Affairs, our liaison with the Ministry who has assisted the Board with some difficult tasks and who has compensated in areas where the Chair and the Board's administrative support did not have the expertise or knowledge of government procedures.
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 hearings and decisions and, generally, reduce the backlog of appeals.