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'I don't have any faith;' business owners have mixed views on real change with property assessments

Business owners Kristy Van Slyck and Bernie Dombowsky spoke to media after their Jan. 9 presentation to city council.
City hall. Photo by Jason G. Antonio

Business owners Kristy Van Slyck and Bernie Dombowsky are cautiously optimistic about potential improvements to property assessments after city council agreed to support their quest for change.

During its Jan. 9 regular meeting, council voted unanimously to have city administration contact the Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency’s (SAMA) Quality Assurance Division to request a preliminary investigation to determine if there is sufficient evidence to complete a secondary audit into the agency’s assessment work.

After their presentation, the media spoke with the two business owners and asked for their reactions to the meeting outcome.

“It was great. It was fabulous … ,” said Van Slyck. “I was very impressed with council. They understand what the citizens are looking for and they are also concerned and they chose to make a change and go forward.”

However, the motion that council approved was not what Van Slyck wanted. She indicated that there is already enough evidence to trigger a secondary audit into SAMA’s property assessments in Moose Jaw. Still, she is pleased that the agency must follow the process.

Van Slyck was excited about the positive reception she and Dombowsky received from council.

“I’m a little hesitant because it (the audit) hadn’t been initiated, but I am looking forward to moving forward on a change,” she said, noting council’s decision to force SAMA to pursue a secondary audit is precedent-setting because one has never happened before in Saskatchewan. 

With a chuckle, Van Slyck said she hoped she didn’t have to return to council to continue this battle but would if necessary. Yet, she pointed out that once city hall submits the request to SAMA, it has 30 days to respond. 

Meanwhile, she wasn’t concerned that SAMA might say nothing is wrong with its assessment formula. She pointed out that the secondary audit would discover the incorrect data and everything else wrong with the formula.

The vice-president of acquisitions and leasing with Viridian Property Corporation said she had no idea why SAMA created 17 types of property classifications in Moose Jaw while other municipalities have one or two, while there was no reason for it.

“… the legislation sets it up that they have to follow the proper model and they have to use certain data and certain information,” she added, “which they have not.”

Dombowsky, the owner of Charlotte’s Catering, took a different view of the meeting’s outcome and whether real change will happen.

“I’m not very optimistic … . I don’t have a lot of faith in the way forward that anything good will come out of SAMA checking on it themselves,” he said. “When you’re checking on your friends … they’re in the same building (in Regina) and they coffee together.”

Dombowsky thought SAMA would delay as long as possible in making changes, forcing business owners to pay another year “of these exorbitant taxes.” He noted that the agency is adamant that its assessment model is correct.

“They’re not changing … . I don’t have any faith that they’ll check on themselves enough to say that they made a mistake and provide changes,” he stated.

Conversely, he was pleased with how well council members have treated and supported him whenever he has discussed this topic — city administration “less so” — while they have usually returned his phone calls. Moreover, he believes the community is fully behind this effort.

“The number of views on the YouTube video also speaks volumes. There’s over 8,000 views on that YouTube video,” Dombowsky said. 

Residents from every demographic are concerned about the inaccuracies with property assessments, he continued, including seniors, who voice their dismay and outrage when he sees them at coffee. They, too, have no confidence in SAMA doing the right thing. 

Dombowsky appealed his taxes in 2022 and thought the entire process was flawed since he believed SAMA cheated to overrule his concerns. 

“The whole process is so wrong, really. The only option (was) to liquidate (Charlotte’s Catering in Moose Jaw) and move on to another location,” he said. 

Both Dombowsky and Van Slyck appreciated the community’s support on this issue.

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