‘Context and clarification’ on NCC/Chelsea tax dispute
As head of Chelsea’s municipal administration, I would like to add context and clarification to the National Capital Commission’s Valley Voice article in the March 31 edition of The Low Down (“Despite current disagreement, NCC’s committed to supporting Chelsea”).
Let me list a few of the most important facts and offer additional information in response to citizens’ subsequent inquiries. Citizens and the media would have had fewer inquiries had the NCC not insisted that the federal government’s Dispute Advisory Panel (DAP) hold its Zoom proceedings “in-camera”, thereby barring Chelsea residents and The Low Down from hearing the presentations from the two parties.
Chelsea pays for services rendered by collecting taxes calculated by applying a tax rate to a property value for each individual property in the municipality. Looking at their tax bill, Chelseaites will note that the MRC des Collines evaluates their properties. That is the law in Quebec. The law also provides methods for contesting the valuation, not to Chelsea, but rather to the MRC. In the past, the NCC followed this procedure for contesting valuations with which it did not agree.
In 2018, however, it arbitrarily decided to withhold its Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) to Chelsea on 33 lots. Chelsea's only recourse was to appeal to the DAP, an organization and process entirely under the control of the federal government itself. At the time, the NCC stated it would respect the DAP’s advice.
The evaluation of the whole of Gatineau Park was not at issue in the dispute before the DAP. More than three quarters of the park lies outside Chelsea. Within Chelsea, the park has an area of 8,360 hectares or 20,658 acres. Overall, the NCC’s increase for the bill for their PILT was in line with other Chelsea properties and certainly did not show an increase of 58 per cent. Of the 33 lots in dispute, only 11 were designated by the MRC as non-residential and subject to the higher non-residential tax rate. For the remaining 23 lots, with few exceptions, the DAP recognized the MRC’s and not the NCC’s valuation principles.
In addition, only about three per cent of the park located in Chelsea is truly recognized as a conservation area, most of it is used for recreational tourism. The average valuation recognized for a NCC property represents a value much lower than the value of a development lot in Chelsea.
The NCC maintains 12 parking lots in Chelsea and most of the park’s 2.6 million annual visits gain access via Chelsea’s roads and, in particular, via Meech Lake road, which has seven parking lots. The estimated cost for Meech Lake road reconstruction is $18 million, although the road serves only 56 Chelsea residences.
Chelsea’s current annual budget is $21 million. According to its last annual report, the NCC had an operating budget of $142 million, a capital budget of $62.5 million, an annual surplus of $52 million, and an accumulated surplus of $721 million. Chelsea is pleased that the NCC “recognizes the importance of Meech Lake Road to the Park and its users and [that it] has been actively working to help seek federal funds to offset its rehabilitation costs.” Chelsea’s municipal Council first approached the NCC on this subject in 2018, but thus far the NCC has withheld paying its full amount of PILT and has not made any contribution to the cost of the Meech Lake Road rehabilitation.
John-David McFaul, director general and secretary-treasurer, municipality of Chelsea