ILLEGITIMUM NON CARBORUNDUM
That's a mock Latin expression just above, probably created during the Great War To End All Wars. What it means in its various versions, especially for Harvard students who have it embedded in their campus liturgy, is don't let the bastards grind you down.
Which brings me to the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., the bureaucrats who have drawn criticism from the premier to the lowest cottager.
We can't let MPAC grind us down, and the technocrats certainly try. In fact, I suspect they think we're trying to do that to them.
Appealing the process is a little like running the gauntlet must have been when the natives were restless. It reminds me of the expression about figures lie and liars figure.
I have just fought MPAC successfully, sort of, on both my Etobicoke house and my Trent Hills cottage. It's taken a couple of years and probably a week's work. And that doesn't include the $75 cost of each appeal or the help of my son Brett, the computer expert, because my Mac
doesn't fit with the MPAC system of PCs (which is just another frustration about MPAC.)
My victory is that I've had my assessment reduced by $107,000 on the two (asssessment is the key in determining your municipal taxes.)
I wrote about my cottage assessment jumping by 300% in my blog (blog.johndowning.ca) in a column on Dec. 14. 2008. Just Google Failure To Subtract While Adding In Cottage Taxes. I also wrote Taxes For The Future While Living In The Past on Dec. 20, 2008.
I detailed the rotten foundation of figures which was MPAC's justification for a huge jump of my assessment in three years from $76,000 to $226,000. The assessment apparatchiks wanted to make my cottage the highest taxed in the neighbourhood.
I conceded that MPAC had a complicated and controversial job in assessing more than 4.7 million properties, which the pencil pushers claim is the largest such operation in North America. This caused some readers, such as Penny Caldwell, the Editor of Cottage Life magazine, to think at first that I wasn't critical and annoyed. I guess my fire was banked like a dormant volcano. But by the end of all the research and forms and letters and calls and inspections, I would like to erupt all over the baffling bas...and I don't mean bassets.
What complicated the cottage process was that the first renovation I had made in my 30-year-ownership was finished largely after Jan. 1, 2008, which was the date when the new assessment clicked in all over the province. Yet the suits added the $52,000 cost of my big new room to what they claimed had been an assessment of $92,000.
So I appealed. I sent assessment figures for the neighbours - which my son had to get - and a letter detailing mistakes in their description of my cottage - which included, for example, a well when I don't have one.
Then a letter came knocking $16,000 off. Nope, I said. So a hearing by an independent arbiter was scheduled. I said June was bad because of medical appointments. So the date was set for the same day as a specialist's inspection of my innards. I then said that everything was clear for the summer, but not after Sept. 15 because I would be in Europe. So the hearing was scheduled while I was cruising on the Danube.
The date was then set for late November, but a "valuation review specialist" showed up before that for the first examination of the property that has ever been done to my knowledge. She measured and we argued and she inspected and we argued. She was convinced their accounting of past assessment figures was correct even when I showed her the actual bills. She argued that the well wasn't that important in assessment, and I asked if she would prefer a cottage with a well to one that didn't have one.
A week later the offer came at $190,000, which is 16% lower than the first figure. Still too high, but I didn't fancy wasting a cold November day and $40 in gas to keep fighting the system. Surely a crushing indictment is that it took more than two years.
My city battle was as complicated but I never got as close to the hearing. This time the "valuation review specialist" and I argued about the drawbacks in my 1 1/2 storey house where I've lived for more than 40 years.
The Sunnylea area just south of The Kingsway is great and hot. But the home has the normal sloped ceilings upstairs and low basement ceilings. The "specialist" said that the factors she considered didn't include sloped ceilings being a drawback. I said to hell with her factors and formulas because what was essential in assessment is the price the property would bring on the market. And since I was over six foot, I knew that tall couples wouldn't be rushing to my house.
There were other arguments, like the idiot parking by yuppies taking their kids to the school just one house and a road away. So the "specialist" offered to reduce the assessment by just over 10% to $603,000, which seemed fair to me.
What bothers me about my fights over the two properties is just how complicated it was. As a columnist and editor familiar with red tape, I should have been able to manoeuvre much easier through the process. Much of this was done by computer. What about those without computers, or those who find computers frustrating or baffling? What about those without the time and inclination to deal with the forms and arguments? What about seniors who can't handle the latest contrivances of the paper mills?
Are these people well served, or do they in the end let the regulators grind them down?
You don't have to be a careful reader of Cottage Life magazine or listen to the latest bitchings on the dock to know of too many horror stories about taxes. The young couples who give up their dreams of owning a home or cottage because they just can't handle the taxes. The old couples who sell because they just can't pay the taxes on top of the Hydro and upkeep.
There is a revolt against the McGuinty government over the HST. (Unfortunately we need such a tax but the reach of the tax into every service and purchase is obscene.) We also need a revolt against how MPAC takes more than $130 million annually from us just to fashion a bureaucratic mystery. We can't let the bas...sets grind us down.