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SAMA cost seen as reasonable

We are getting a return on investment through SAMA. — Councillor Randy Goulden The cost of doing for in-house assessment appraisal of properties is more than the City of Yorkton is willing to undertake.

We are getting a return on investment through SAMA.
— Councillor
Randy Goulden

The cost of doing for in-house assessment appraisal of properties is more than the City of Yorkton is willing to undertake.

At the August 22nd, 2016 Regular Council meeting, Administration was directed to look at options of providing for in-house assessment appraisal of properties, including investigating sharing this position/service with other Saskatchewan cities.

“This analysis includes preliminary information on the costs required to establish an in-house assessment division,” Shannon Bell, Director of Finance with the City told the regular meeting of Council Monday. “These costs are then compared to the service delivery and fees currently paid by contract to the Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency (SAMA).”

Bell noted there were not a lot of jurisdictions comparable to Yorkton to get costs from.

“There are only a few Cities in Saskatchewan that house their own internal assessment divisions,” she said. “In order to conduct a relevant comparison Administration contacted the City of Swift Current to gather the financial costs associated with having their own assessment division. Swift Current was chosen by Administration as they have a comparable population, and likewise their assessment roll of $1.9 billion is comparable to that of the City of Yorkton at $1.87 billion. Administration feels this model can be used to forecast the costs of a new assessment division.

“In 2016 Swift Current’s assessment division had a net budget of $331,637.00. They have three full-time employees, which includes two provincially-certified assessors and an administrative assistant. The estimated salary of a certified assessor is at least $100,000, and Swift Current also shared that finding qualified professionals for these positions is challenging in a smaller centre. The assessor from Swift Current also stated that they do make use of a building inspector to gain data on buildings. This level of staffing only supports the assessment for the City of Swift Current. If they were to contract out their services to other Municipalities they would require additional staff and resources to do so. Revenue would be earned to offset these additional costs; however this approach would be in direct competition with SAMA and is not a part of a Municipality’s mandate. “Municipalities typically do not set themselves up to compete with other commercial entities.”

Bell said there is more than staffing to consider too.

“In additional to the staffing costs, specific software is required to develop the assessment value of a property and in the City of Swift Current’s case their initial investment in the software amounted to approximately $100,000,” she said. “They have made enhancements and modifications totalling approximately $240,000.00 over the course of several years. Additional costs to factor in include tablets, training, reimbursement for travel and personal vehicle allowances (instead of purchasing vehicles through the City).

“While providing their own assessment division, the City of Swift Current is able to respond to customer inquiries and appeals in a more direct and efficient manner, as they are solely responsible for their valuation models and analysis of the marketplace. Swift Current’s City Assessor has indicated they have not had to deal with appeals at the Saskatchewan Municipal Board (SMB) level in a number of years. Swift Current does employ a municipal solicitor on staff to assist in any legal preparations and appeal proceedings at the local board levels, which is in addition to the 2016 budget for Swift Current’s assessment division.”

Bell said whatever system is utilized there are provincial regulations which must be followed.

“All assessment divisions, whether contracted (SAMA) or in-house are required to follow the same legislation and valuation standards as established in the Assessment Management Agency Act,” she said. “Whether a City has their own assessment division or they contract this out, should have no impact on the decisions that the SMB make. Currently the City of Yorkton is experiencing great losses with the SMB decisions, however Administration believes that this is due to precedent setting procedural changes with SMB and not because the City of Yorkton contracts SAMA for its assessment appraisal.”

Ultimately in-house costs are higher.

“In comparison the 2016 City of Yorkton contract with SAMA was $144,778,” said Bell. “For this fee, SAMA provides the City with direct access to the Regional Manager, a dedicated Assessment Appraiser with multiple designations in the Yorkton office, and 5 or more statistical analysts in the Regina office. SAMA annually conducts targeted re-inspections to update physical information. There is constant contact with the City’s taxation division to keep up to date on physical changes to properties, and provide both annual and supplemental assessment valuations for properties in the City of Yorkton.

“With respect to appeals, whether before the Local Board of Revision, Saskatchewan Municipal Board or Court of Appeal, SAMA represents the City’s interest in all legal proceedings, at no additional cost to the contracted amount. All supporting documents are prepared and presented by SAMA at the hearings. The City is not required to prepare case arguments, or pay legal fees for this service. The City utilizes SAMA’s legal counsel and field of expertise to support the assessment values provided.

“By utilizing SAMA to provide assessment numbers rather than establishing an assessment division, the City will experience a cost savings of roughly $412,000.00. Given the significant savings, and specific expertise gained by using SAMA, Administration would not recommend establishing an in-house assessment appraisal division within the City of Yorkton.”

Councillor Randy Goulden said the report shows the City receives good value through SAMA.

“We are getting a return on investment through SAMA,” she said.