Kneehill County Council heard a report that property values in the municipality are recovering quite nicely from the COVID-19 pandemic. Councillors heard the report of their official assessor at the April 11 regular meeting of council.
Accurate Assessment Group Ltd. had four staff members present to council on their most recent efforts to assess the value of property in Kneehill County. Accurate Assessment has three offices in Alberta and provides services to 25 rural municipalities, seven cities, six towns and eight Metis settlements.
Assessment Manager Troy Birtles was the primary speaker but he was assisted by Residential Assessor Kris Meadows and industrial assessment team members Sean Barrett and Ray Fortin.
Birtles began his presentation by noting the presentation intended to illustrate changes in assessment in Kneehill County year to year, and he understood Kneehill had not yet set their tax rate for 2023 so this was going to be very relevant information.
He passed the PowerPoint presentation baton to Meadows, who stated assessment in Kneehill County increased from 2022 to 2023 in most categories.
Meadows noted there was quite a bit of an increase in the assessment of “exempt properties,” which are properties that are exempt from taxation. Meadows stated this involves a Hutterite colony under construction in Kneehill County which includes large farm buildings and a large assessment, adding that the operation may be exempt but it is still assessed.
Looking at assessment growth in 2022 Meadows stated properties in Kneehill County were assessed, in total of all categories, almost $200 million more than in 2021.
However, before Kneehill County property owners become alarmed that their tax bills are spiking, Meadows noted the majority of taxpayers will see little to no change in the assessment.
He did present a chart that suggested almost 61 per cent of Kneehill County property owners will see no change to their assessment, while about 20 per cent may see roughly one to 10 per cent increase while just over 14 per cent of property owners may see an increase to their assessment of between 10 to 25 per cent.
The chart showed that just over one per cent of property owners may see an increase between 25 and 100 per cent in their assessment.
During his presentation, Meadows noted there were 17 new residential/non-residential tax rolls in Kneehill County and they were mostly connected to subdivisions. Development permit numbers remained virtually unchanged from the previous year.
Birtles pointed out that councillors as they examined the numbers may think, for example, that a 10 per cent increase in assessment seems high for residential/nonresidential properties but that number is not unusual in Alberta.
Birtles added it seems, now that the pandemic is over, people are more comfortable spending money.
The industrial assessors spoke next. Fortin discussed industrial assessment and taxation, including a “tax holiday” for new oil and gas wells in Alberta. Apparently this “tax holiday” is set to expire in 2025.
Fortin also explained how some industrial properties are regulated by provincial or federal government, while some others are not: grain terminals, processing operations and bitcoin operations were a few he mentioned.
Coun. Carrie Fobes noted she had a few questions sent to her from ratepayers who knew the assessors were appearing at council.
Her first question was how do property owners know their assessment is fair? Birtles answered assessors offer a breakdown of the property and how certain laws apply to different parts of it, including the farmland and the residence, if any.
He noted assessors are willing to discuss issues with property owners.
When asked how assessors gauge improvements or depreciation on property, Birtles responded assessors use what he referred to as “age-life” tables, initial value plus market factors.
Birtles noted that if market factors didn’t exist, property values would always go down year to year, but that’s not the case in Alberta. He noted building plans and inspections can also be helpful.
Fobes then asked how assessors handle the discovery of something on a property that’s not in their records. Birtles responded a property’s assessment could then increase; something really big could call for a meeting with Kneehill County staff and a re-assessment of the property.
When asked how assessors gain access to property, Birtles answered that under the Municipal Government Act (MGA) assessors have authority to enter property while property owners are also required to provide information to assessors.
Birtles noted if access is, for whatever reason, not available assessors may estimate.
Coun. Wade Christie asked about assessment of wind power developments. Fortin stated power systems are assessed on a “regulated cost” approach, taking into account the actual cost of construction. He pointed out a wind development constructed 10 years ago might have a different price tag than one built this year.
Several councillors asked about wind and solar development assessment and it was stated the land and developments are assessed but things like computers aren’t, as they’re considered “personal property.”
Readers should know that in Alberta assessment is only one factor that contributes to the final tax bill a property owner receives. The municipality’s tax rate is also a factor.
Councillors accepted Accurate Assessment’s presentation as information.
Local Journalism Initiative reporter