Abbotsford City Hall (File photo )

Fix B.C.’s outdated property tax system, Abbotsford mayor urges

Braun bemoans tax bill increases after surge in home values hit multi-family market

More than 2,000 Abbotsford property owners have received letters warning them that they’ll likely be facing a significant property tax hike this year thanks to above-average assessment increases.

That has local politicians once again calling for the province to ease the burden for homeowners who see their assessments spike – and who frequently blame the city for their much-higher tax bills.

Owners of strata units in apartment or townhouse complexes received the majority of notices, BC Assessment deputy assessor Robert Smith told council Monday. They’ve been warned that the value of their homes increased much more than the 18 per cent city average.

Homeowners with an average assessment increase will see their property taxes go up by around 2.4 per cent – the amount of increased tax revenue the city has proposed for its next budget. But many owners of strata units have seen price jumps of up to 40 per cent, a disparity that will trigger a large tax jump. (Those who see the assessed value of their homes rise by less than the 18 per cent average could see their property taxes go down.)

Mayor Henry Braun has previously called on BC Assessment and the province to find a way to mitigate the way spikes in value affect different property classes. Last year, a similar situation occurred in the single-family housing sector, with the value of homes – and the taxes that are due on them – increasing much more than strata properties.

“Something needs to change,” Braun said Monday, describing the tax system as outdated and unfair. He referenced previous suggestions that different classes of homes be taxed at different rates. That would give municipalities more flexibility to even out the tax implications resulting in surges in the housing market. But it would also see certain types of residential property taxed more heavily than others.

Braun said he heard from many residents upset about higher tax bills last year, and expects the same to occur once tax time rolls around in 2018. And he said it’s difficult to explain that the city is only receiving two per cent more taxes when a homeowner with a large assessment is having to pay hundreds of dollars more.

“Local government finds itself in a position where it doesn’t have the tools to address [the situation] unless there’s a change,” he said.

Coun. Dave Loewen said it’s “patently unfair” that houses that use similar amounts of city services carry a greater share of the tax burden. Loewen also expressed worry that seniors who have seen their property values increase dramatically were being driven out of their homes by higher tax bills.

Smith noted that the Ministry of Finance does have a program that allows such homeowners to defer those taxes until after the sale of their homes. However, not all are willing to take advantage of that low-cost solution, Braun said, because they don’t want to feel there is a lien on their homes.

Smith’s presentation also revealed that across Abbotsford, $347 million of property was assessed at higher rates because owners did not qualify – or have not yet applied for – farm status. While Smith said a little more than half that $347 million could be re-classified as farm status over the ensuing months, that still means farming has ceased on dozens of properties over the last year.

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