But using modern technology, MPAC came up with a solution that simultaneously satisfies property owners and reduces the cost to taxpayers: a tool called AboutMyProperty.ca.
“It allows all Ontario property owners to be able to access the impact assessment value of their property, confirm that MPAC has the correct information about their property, and know how MPAC evaluated their property. They are able to do the evaluation themselves by comparing their property to other properties that are similar to theirs,” said Fariba Anderson, CIO and VP of Information Services for MPAC.
MPAC, a not-for-profit agency founded by the government of Ontario, is responsible for assessing all 5 million properties in the province, including those owned by individuals and businesses. The information they collect in those assessments is used by Ontario’s 444 municipalities to fairly distribute the burden of property taxes among their residents.
Previously, property owners who wanted to obtain information about their assessments, correct information on their assessments, or put in a request for reconsideration would have had to call or write to MPAC. As a result, MPAC was unable to handle the volume of requests as efficiently as it and the public would have liked.
And so AboutMyProperty.ca was born. MPAC partnered with Bing Maps to create the tool in the hope that it would divert the phone traffic it was receiving onto the Internet.
“We used Bing Maps because we needed a streetscape imaging solution that could show the actual property that the property owner has,” said Anderson. “Other forms of mapping were not working as effectively with the third-party services that we were using. We use a London-based company called iLOOKABOUT to provide us with screenscape imaging, and their product works really well with Bing.”
As it turns out, AboutMyProperty.ca was a boon for both MPAC and the public. MPAC saw a vast reduction in the number of calls it was fielding – the majority of phone calls they receive now are legitimate requests for reconsideration – while substantial savings were being realized on behalf of taxpayers.
“A call to our call centre costs $17; to look it up on AboutMyProperty costs less than a penny,” said Anderson. “Ontarians will do us a great favour by utilizing AboutMyProperty because their tax dollars will only go where there is a legitimate concern.”
But more than that, says Anderson, it helps MPAC do a better job and deliver on its promised mandates.
“Our mandate at MPAC is to ensure that the assessment value we’re providing is based on the best use of land, so it means the information a property owner provides us is very, very critical,” said Anderson. “AboutMyProperty enables us to ensure that we have the right information from the right source to do the right job, which is ensure the property values are based on correct data.”
Since its launch, MPAC has received several awards for its work on AboutMyProperty.ca. Most recently, it won an ITAC (Information Technology Association of Canada) Ingenious award in the small to mid-sized public organization category.
Anderson also nstressed that privacy was one of MPAC’s top priorities during the development of AboutMyProperty.ca. The organization adhered to the principles of Privacy by Design – a framework established by Ontario’s privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian – and insisted that privacy be woven into the architecture of its new tool.
Moreover, it pledged to only collect data that it would need or use, and established one-way encryption on sensitive data that needed protection.
“A lot of people are shying away from using cloud computing capabilities because they’re worried about privacy,” Anderson said. “But if they would take the time and embed Privacy by Design principles into the architecture of their solution, they could use cloud-based capabilities such as Bing without worrying about privacy implications.”
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