Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Double-edged sword

As the rest of the world discovers what a gem the Pontiac is, and more and more people want to live here, property values are bound to go up. It’s a matter of supply and demand.
And it’s assumed to be a good thing. More residents means businesses will do better. Schools and post offices will stay viable. Membership in volunteer organizations will go up. And increased revenues from property taxes will enable municipal governments to do more for their residents.
As Alleyn and Cawood mayor Carl Mayer recently told THE EQUITY, “If I can sell an acre of land to somebody and get $125 in taxes off it where I'm getting nothing now, I'm going to take it.”
But it’s not so rosy for property owners whose taxes go up as a result.
Last week we reported on the staggering 370 per cent increase in municipal property valuations slated for Alleyn and Cawood. Imagine the shock of opening your municipal tax bill and seeing that, starting next year, your property will be considered to be almost four times its current value and your municipal taxes will be going up accordingly.
Anyone on a fixed income and just able to make ends meet would be mortified by the news that they will have to come up with more than triple the municipal taxes they are paying now.
As some residents pointed out at the municipal council meeting in Danford Lake last week, if this problem isn’t fixed, it would be a disaster if people who have lived in Alleyn and Cawood all their lives default on their taxes and have to sell their homes and leave the municipality.
A major part of the problem appears to have originated with the sale of some vacant lots for much higher prices than the municipal valuations. The concern on the minds of many ratepayers is that the increased market value of vacant lots will also push up the valuation of residential properties, cottages and forest lots beginning in 2025.
It raises the question as to why the sale of an empty lot should affect the valuation of someone’s house. Shouldn’t the different categories of property be evaluated separately?
Apparently, the answer is yes, and encouraging assurances have been offered by people involved in the evaluation process that this will indeed be done. So far, nothing is set in stone, the 370 per cent increase will not be applied across the board, property valuations will be done by sector and released in mid-September, and municipalities setting their budgets in November have the option to adjust their mill rates accordingly.
Alleyn and Cawood is looking at lowering its mill rate in order to reduce, though probably not eliminate altogether, whatever increase in property taxes people will have to pay as a result of the new valuations. While this would no doubt provide relief to ratepayers, it will not fully address the problem. They will still have to pay higher school taxes and probably higher insurance premiums based on their higher property valuations.
Similarly, the higher valuation has already more than doubled the municipal shares Alleyn and Cawood must pay this year to the MRC from $112,000 to $289,000. This increase of $177,000 comes a year ahead of the municipality’s ability to collect any additional property taxes that the new valuation will produce, possibly putting it into a cashflow crunch.
Some see the problem that has befallen Alleyn and Cawood as unique, and that it should be left to the municipality to solve it. To that end, a citizen’s task force has been set up to analyse the problem and bring forward ideas about what to do about it. The municipality’s director general, Isabelle Cardinal, is working with the evaluator and intends to take the question of how the evaluation process can be improved all the way to Quebec’s ministry of municipal affairs, if need be.
But others are concerned something like this, even if not as drastic as a 370 per cent increase, could happen just as easily to any other municipality. It raises the question as to what role the MRC could play on behalf of its member municipalities to ensure the sort of shock that recently greeted Alleyn and Cawood ratepayers doesn’t visit others around the county.
Are there problems in the evaluation process that need to be addressed? If so, what are they and what should be done about them? Among other items on the agenda of this week’s meeting of Pontiac mayors, developing a plan to sort through these questions might be a good one to add.
As Cardinal put it, development is kind of a double-edged sword: it’s nice to see growth in the municipality, but we also need to protect the property owners that we already have so they don’t see a major hike in their evaluations because of it.
Charles Dickson


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