Monday, November 26, 2012

Assessment Only Half the Picture

Have you received your new property assessment notice from MPAC – the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation?

Updated for the first time since 2008, your notice will outline MPAC’s determination of the market value of your property as of January 1, 2012.

MPAC considers many factors when assessing property values, such as the sale prices of comparable properties in your neighbourhood, and the age, location, characteristics, and size of your property and home. In essence, MPAC strives to base their value on the amount your property could have sold for on the open market.

Just like in 2008, our assessment will remain the same for the next four years. However, if the value of your property increases, that increase will be phased in over the four years; if the value goes down, you will immediately see a reduction.

For example, if the value of your home increased by $20,000 over its current assessment, the value for determining your property tax will increase by $5,000 per year over the next four years.

If the value of your home goes up, does that mean that your property taxes will also go up?

No, not necessarily. Market Value Assessment is only one half of the property tax equation. The amount you pay to the Town of Pelham, to the Region, and for Education is based on the Market Value Assessment of your home multiplied by the three tax rates and added together.

Say the Town budgeted for revenues of $10 million from property taxes in 2013. If all assessments double, the Town would cut the tax rate in half to collect that $10 million. If everyone’s assessments went down, we would increase the rate to collect the same $10 million.

But, what if your assessed value increases more than the average?

The property tax system is a bit of a blunt instrument. Municipalities set the tax rate based on the average assessment for each of the tax classes – residential, multi-residential, commercial, industrial, farm/managed forest, pipelines.

If your property’s assessed value increases more than the average you will likely pay more than the average tax. By the same token, if your assessed value increases less than the average, you will likely pay less tax.

What if you don’t think the MPAC assessment on your property is correct? You can issue a “request for reconsideration” before April 1, 2013 so that MPAC will review your assessment.

Please check out their website ( and your notice for more information.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Increasing Pedestrian Safety on Pelham Street

What should we do to help increase pedestrian safety on Pelham Street?

A couple of years ago, parents from Glynn A. Green School implored Council to increase the safety of children walking to and from school along Pelham Street. They highlighted traffic counts that estimated that 10,000 vehicles drove past the school every weekday. They also reminded Council about a woman who was tragically killed +12 years ago while she jogged on the road’s gravel shoulder.

Council reacted swiftly. We approved a new traffic signal at Port Robinson to calm traffic and to help pedestrians cross; we approved a new sidewalk from Elizabeth to Brock Street (on the west side of Pelham); we approved an engineering study for the reconstruction of Pelham Street from Port Robinson to Quaker; and we earmarked $2.5 million in future budgets (starting at $1.5 million in 2013) for the road’s reconstruction – including sidewalks, curbs, new storm sewers, and new water lines.

After completing the first two items, staff asked Council whether Pelham Street from College to Port Robinson should also be reconstructed; if so, staff suggested that new bikelanes be installed in that section (to fulfill the Region’s bikeways Master Plan) and that the hydro lines be buried. The estimated cost was an additional $400,000 and Council agreed.

When the engineering design and construction estimate came back this fall at $6.5 million – two-and-a-half times more than the estimate – all were surprised and disheartened. This work would consume all of the $2 million (on average) that we invest each year in major road projects.

Given that staff believes the road surface remains in great shape, staff began looking at alternatives.

What about following the new design but install only the sidewalk now? The new sidewalk would have been installed at a different level than the current land’s contours, impeded storm water flow, and obstructed future storm sewers and waterlines.

On November 6, staff suggested a couple of solutions for an estimated $150,000:

  • install a traffic signal at Pancake to help ease traffic flow and make it easier for pedestrians to cross;
  • install rumble strips along the both sides of the existing road surface (like on the edge of the QEW) to warn drivers to stay off the shoulder.
  • install a 1.5 metre asphalt strip on both sides of the road for pedestrians and cyclists.

Council will review these suggestions during our Capital Budget meeting on Monday, November 26; I hope you will provide your suggestions and feedback to Council and me before that discussion.

Monday, November 12, 2012

"How Might We...?"

As you may have read in the local media last week, Council used a somewhat different method to focus discussion and help solve issues surrounding the potential Site Alteration Bylaw.

You see, during the Committee of the Whole on November 5, staff reported on the feedback received about a proposed Site Alteration Bylaw. The report also contained an alternative bylaw.

Instead of the normal method of engaging in debate (and counter-debate) about what is needed and what may not be needed, we used a process to focus the discussion and focus on the problem.

To do that, I used a flip-chart (and several pages) and asked Councillors to offer the “key facts” about the “ambiguous situation” of fill being dumped on agricultural lands. After recording 28 facts, Councillors placed three dots each on the flip chart paper to identify the most important facts. Each Councillor explained the reason for picking that key element.

From those most important facts, Councillors then outlined eight distinct issues that needed to be solved. Finally, the Committee directed staff to take the information, and present staff’s best ideas and recommendations for solving those distinct issues. On November 19, Councillors will evaluate the ideas and likely direct staff to develop and present action plans. (I want to emphasize that the process does not prejudge solution(s); the solution(s) to these issues may or may not require a bylaw(s).)

Council used part of an eight-step creative problem solving process developed by Dr. Min Basadur, Professor Emeritus of Innovation in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University ( Over the last couple of months, Town staff has also used the process to help solve various challenges, like developing ways to increase and improve communication with residents

The three-stage, eight-step process includes:
Stage 1:  Problem Formulation: including problem finding; fact finding; and problem definition. (Council completed this stage regarding “Site Alteration” above.)
Stage 2:  Solution Formulation: including idea finding; and idea evaluation and selection. (Councillors will undertake this portion at our November 19 meeting, regarding “Site Alteration.”)
Stage 3:  Solution Implementation: including action plan; gaining acceptance; and action. This stage recognizes that “Unless the solution is skillfully prepared for implementation, and its implementation skillfully executed, the problem solving will not have been successful.”

Council will continue to use this creative problem solving process to not only deal with this particular issue but to also take steps toward solving several other key challenges and opportunities that face our community.