Board that hears assessment appeals could lose independence, property experts tell council

A pair of property-appraisal experts appeared before Mayor Brian Bowman's inner circle on Wednesday to argue new rules for the Board of Revision threatens the independence of those responsible for adjudicating complaints about property assessments.

Mayor's inner circle approves new board of revision rules touted as improving transparency

Mayor Brian Bowman is in favour of a new rule book for the Board of Revision, which looked at the values of more than $16 billion worth of Winnipeg properties last year. (Michael Fazio/CBC)

A pair of property-appraisal experts appeared before Mayor Brian Bowman's inner circle Wednesday to argue new rules for the Board of Revision threaten the tribunal's independence.

The Board of Revision is responsible for adjudicating complaints about property assessments. In 2016, it received 4,893 applications for review, encompassing properties with a combined value of $16.7 billion.

In order to ensure disputes over property values are settled fairly, the board is supposed to operate independently from the city's assessment and taxation department.

On Wednesday, Winnipeg lawyer Mark Newman and property appraiser Rocky Neufeld urged city council's executive policy committee not to approve a new procedures manual that codifies some existing Board of Revision practices and creates several new rules. 

Bowman's office says the new procedures will reduce the potential for conflict of interest on the board and improve its transparency. The manual includes rules requiring board meetings to be live streamed, board members not to speak to media and board members to dress in a manner respectful of the institution.

Property owners have long expressed concerns the board is under pressure from the city to make decisions that will increase property tax revenue.

Newman and Neufeld told executive policy committee that while they don't have many quibbles with the new procedures, in the big picture, city staff should not be seen as giving the independent body new marching orders.

"You cannot be imposing directives on the Board of Revision," said Newman, a municipal law and assessment-litigation specialist who appears before council committee on a semi-regular basis on behalf of his clients.

"My concern is the board retain its independence," he said later, outside the meeting room. "The citizens have to be satisfied this tribunal is truly independent and is not operating under the direction of the assessment department or the City of Winnipeg administration."

Winnipeg lawyer Mark Newman argues new rules threaten the independence of the Board of Revision. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)
Deputy city clerk Mark Lemoine, however, told executive policy committee the new procedures manual will simply formalize means to ensure Board of Revision members behave professionally. The manual will not affect the independence of the citizen appointees, he said. 

Bowman said he believes the new procedures manual is important, "given the sheer value of the billions of dollars" of property values considered by the board of revision.

Bowman said consultations were made with industry stakeholders, but Newman said those consultations were brief.

Executive policy committee approved the new rules unanimously. They now face council approval on July 19.