City loses legal battle over tax assessments

The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan in Regina, where the cases were heard late last month. Photo: Saskatchewan Law Courts website.

After what Mayor Greg Dionne called a legal “glitch,” the city has lost a long-running dispute with two groups of businesses that challenged their tax assessments.

The confusion, the mayor indicated, was caused by a passage in the Cities Act that’s about as clear as toothpaste.

The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan ruled against the city late last month on property tax disputes dating back to 2013 and 2014. Only two companies are named: the holding company for South Hill Mall and The Prince Albert Co-op Association, but they represent a much larger group of businesses battling it out with the city.

In 2013, South Hill Mall Property Holdings Inc. joined a group challenging an adjustment applied to their property assessments. They went to the first level of appeal, the locally appointed Board of Revision, and won. But the city appealed that decision to a higher instance: the Saskatchewan Municipal Board’s Assessment Appeals Committee.

That took time. Meanwhile, South Hill and its neighbours got their 2014 assessment, which used the very formula that the Board of Revision rejected. They went back to file another challenge. Another group of companies, including the Co-op, challenged their assessments on a similar basis. The board sided with the businesses.

That’s where things started to go haywire. The city had appealed all those decisions to the Assessment Appeals Committee. In 2015, the committee came back with a decision – but only for the 2013 South Hill appeal. This time, the city won, and the assessment was adjusted back up.

The city dropped its other appeals, relying on an obscure provision of the Cities Act in the hopes that its victory on the 2013 decision would carry forward.

For the Court of Appeal, that was the fatal mistake.

For more on this story, see the weekend edition of the Daily Herald.