Sheila McDonald chokes up when she describes the One-City spirit that came together to free the City of Edmonton’s Assessment Review Board from an ocean of paperwork by going all electronic.
“It was all so amazing. People from four different parts of the City all came together in a really limited timeframe to help us to do away with 540,000 pieces of paper each and every year,” says the City’s Director of Tribunals.
“It was truly the ‘We Are One City’ philosophy in action,” she says. “They are wonderful people.”
Property owners have the right to file a complaint on their property assessment, and lots of people and businesses do. As a result, the assessment review board and their public appointees conduct more than 900 complaint hearings between April and December each year.
With each complaint generating an average of 600 or more sheets of paper, the amount of paper those hearings generated is truly staggering, 540,000 sheets a year. Stacked, they’d reach the top of a 16-storey building!
“We would receive submissions from each party to the complaint – the property owner and the Assessment Branch. We’d copy everything for the file. Then, each party to the complaint had to bring five complete copies of their submissions to the hearing.
“The amount of paper was just crazy. On top of everything else, at the end of the year, we’d have to send each file to the Corporate Records Centre for storage,” says Sheila.
The Tribunals office had previously made a few process changes that reduced some of the paper, but Sheila remained concerned. So when City Assessment and Taxation Branch Manager Rod Risling called her late in the 2014 budget year with the offer of funding to take the whole process paperless, she jumped on it.
She, Assessment Review Board supervisor Denis Beaudry and representatives of the Assessment and Taxation Branch, IT and Facility and Landscape Infrastructure met early in November last year to discuss how to efficiently convert the appeals process to a digital-only one.
“The order for equipment had to be in in early December and the equipment had to be delivered to us by the end of December…and we made it!” says Sheila.
The system allows parties to a complaint to submit their arguments and supporting material online or if paper copies are provided, they are scanned into the system. The system accepts many formats such as PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
Each side is given full access to the other’s submissions. The sides can submit rebuttals, and counter-rebuttals if they wish.
At the actual hearing, assessment review board members and representatives of both sides each use one of 30 computer thinkpads to display pages they are referring to in their arguments or questions. Assessment review board members can make notes on their screens with fingertips or styluses. The hearing clerk displays which page is being discussed on a large monitor in the room.
“It’s a really slick process,” says Sheila, “and people really like it. We’ve had great response to it from both individual homeowners and agents representing very large corporations.”