Tag Archives: transparency

A letter on the Property Valuation Services Corp

This letter in the Chronicle Herald this morning is worth noting. Since it may eventually disappear from the Voice of the People” we copy it here in full to preserve it for ratepayers future reference.

Not-so-minor details

In a Feb. 25 opinion piece, Kathy Gillis, CEO of PVSC (Property Valuation Services Corporation), says, “All property owners are assigned a PIN number for their assessment account and by using the PIN, details of their accounts are readily accessible.”

In fact, the information is limited and what is provided is not helpful in an appeal. One page of the online report is a map of the property, a second page deals only with the CAP program, and one-half of the third page is devoted to the address. None of this is useful. The remainder is sketchy, at best.

My own for 2011 and 2012 had significant differences. The construction went from “average” to “good,” the area from 2,060 sq. ft. to 2,017 sq. ft., and the garage that was detached in February 2011 became attached in February 2012. No work was done on the house since 2008 so it must have been magic.

The PRC report, on the other hand, is usually six or more pages with breakdowns of the assessment and dwelling details such as number of fixtures, heating details and the quality grade.

The important thing that is not available is the comparators report, which Ms. Gillis neglected to discuss. One has to ask for it and may have to wait months to get it. Few know it exists. I had to request mine from PVSC’s freedom of information officer (although I did not have to file a formal request).

[I have left off the letter writers name, although you may see it now at source]

The Assessment Office, which was supposed to be at arm’s length from  municipal government, was never very independent, prone as it was to reassessment requests from various town administrations,  but now with this corporate model ( which they copied from other provinces where it has proved to be a disaster for taxpayers), the municipalities are both clients and overseers of the “service” (Roy Brideau used to be on the Board). Note that the PVSC gets paid partly on the basis of assessment value. That is, the higher the assessments the more they get paid by the municipality. Isn’t that a sweet deal?

One thing is sure, taxpayers are not served well. The formula or information the PVSC uses to come to a figure is a complete mystery and prone to all kinds of adjustments behind closed doors, always to the taxpayers detriment.

Municipal administrations consider assessments to be their “revenue stream” (which they are not and should not be) and they want to keep it flowing at higher and higher amounts.

Please follow the rest of the links from our past posts on this subject (some were already linked specifically in the above text ) – we are tired of repeating ourselves.


Meetings? or workshops?

We read with great interest the article this morning in the CH in which a rookie councillor asked an intriguing question. When is a meeting not a meeting?

Jennifer Watts says rules regarding meetings at Halifax city hall, which potentially affect transparency in the decision-making process, are cloudy at best.

And the first-term councillor wants to know this: when does a gathering of municipal politicians constitute an official meeting of regional council? Should informal, educational sessions with elected officials and others be open to the public?

Watts, who represents Connaught-Quinpool, said Saturday that she’d like Halifax Regional Municipality’s staff to clarify regulations concerning meetings between councillors, proponents of various projects, community interest groups and city employees. [read more]

We hope she gets an answer better than the one offered here in Wolfville where a similar question has been asked. If you recall Mr Daniels was puzzled about what appeared to be an unjustified in camera meeting. We did a post on it at the time. Here, excavated and dusted off from the archives is an excerpt from that post in which Mr. Daniels describes his experience.

I arrived at the Town Hall Monday night, July 16, just about 7:30 p.m., for the scheduled Town Council monthly meeting. Instead of going right into the meeting room, there were several individuals milling around outside. Perhaps the meeting was going to be held outside, given it was a beautiful evening.

In a few minutes, the front doors opened. I was told that the Audit committee had been meeting with the Town auditor. I didn’t recall seeing any notice of such meeting posted on the Town’s website under Calendar of Events, where I check for upcoming events. (I looked at the website when I returned home after the meeting, and no meeting of the Audit Committee was posted. Also, there is no listing of the Audit Committee meeting in the Upcoming Meeting/Events section of June 18th and July 3rd Council Meeting Agendas.)

Apparently, part or all of the meeting with the auditor was closed to the public.

And then a bit further down in that same post:

This incident reminded me of another procedural matter. In late June or early July the Town’s Sustainable Community Task Force (the ‘Task Force’) met with individuals who had carried out the public survey, and the public was excluded. At a subsequent Town Council meeting I asked under what authority had the Task Force meeting been closed to the public. Deputy Mayor Wrye said it had been closed under a provision of the MGA. By email I informed the Deputy Mayor that I had reviewed the MGA and could find no authority which would permit the Task Force meeting to be closed to the public. Did I miss something? At the meeting of the Task Force held on July 4th, the Deputy Mayor answered my question by stating that after consulting with the Town’s Counsel, it was concluded that since the MGA does not define what a ‘meeting’ is, that the closed gathering of the Task Force was not a ‘meeting’ at all, but a ‘workshop’ and therefore was not required to comply with the MGA’s open ‘meeting’ requirement.

So then the legislation (MGA) on closed meetings is meaningless and unenforceable in law?

Actually we have done a number of posts on this subject to no avail. Here’s another one!

But of course the real issue is what it tells us – voters and taxpayers – about the character and openness of the people who govern us. What do they have to hide?

There are none so deaf as those who do not wish to hear.

Blogging Frank 587

We know it’s just out but we are tempted to comment on the article on p. 15 of Atlantic Frank’s latest issue. The one with the title “The Secret City and your Money. ”  Here are a few snippets:

…taxpayers are being kept in the dark. Asking for a list of salaries of senior officials is now considered a privacy breach. … At a time when we are being gouged with higher property taxes and less municipal services…taxpayers are prohibited from knowing how our money is spent. What are we children? What is this kindergarten?

Retired provincial watchdog Darce Fardy, who heads the Nova Scotia Right to Know Coalition, says municipal salaries are “something you would expect to have on a website.”

[In Ontario public salaries, including municipal salaries, over 100K must be disclosed]

In  another item on the same page, entitled The HRM FOIPOP fizzle.

[The] Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is just a roadblock on the Information Highway. A ridiculously formal, time consuming and costly process, with no guarantee of results FOIPOP is nothing less than a bureaucratic obstacle in the way of transparency.

Frank paid up for 3 applications under the Act to receive travel expenses and salaries of City Hall mandarins which it eventually got 6 weeks later, whereupon the info was used by the Chronicle Herald who somehow knew to ask for the information just after it was supplied to Frank [ Do they have an ad saying “Does the CH know?” or a New Tips Hotline?] Nice.

In case you didn’t see it in the Herald – Nine bigwigs in HRM are earning a total of $1.425 million which works out to,  on average, $160,000 apiece.

There’s lots more in this latest Frank including pages and pages on the Principal Fells affair but we’ll leave those for you to read yourself because we’d rather mention the bit on page 13, “Cry for New Glasgow’s Tax Paypers [sic], which informs us that a town crier from Pictou County is going to the UK for an International Town Crier Competition. Nice.

Even nicer still, New Glasgow taxpayers are helping out with a $1,000 contribution towards the cost of his trip.

The trip was reported in the New Glasgow News but

...not mentioned in the piece, for whatever reason, is the town’s generous donation.

That’s right keep taxpayers in the dark. Nice. And it isn’t the first time said town crier was helped out of public coffers; according to the Frank report tax money also helped out for him to attend a competition in Bermuda in 2009 and possibly for other excursions before that. Very nice.

Your tax dollars at work. There should be a billboard for this sort of thing.