VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Pickton farm assessed $500,000 tax hike
Police trailers on notorious pig farm count as 'improvements' to property
Wednesday, February 05, 2003
The B.C. Assessment Authority has increased the value of the Port Coquitlam pig farm at the centre of Canada's largest serial murder investigation by almost half a million dollars.
Glen Baglo, Vancouver Sun / Although the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam has been torn apart during a one-year multiple murder investigation, local assessment authorities say its value is up by a half million dollors.
The main reason for the increase, according to the government agency, are the "improvements" to the farm, including several trailers placed on site for the investigation by the joint RCMP-Vancouver police missing women task force.
A year ago today, Coquitlam RCMP executed a search warrant related to illegal firearms on the 22-acre property at 953 Dominion Ave. owned by Robert (Willy) Pickton and his two siblings, Linda and David.
A day later, the task force investigating the disappearance of more than 60 women executed a second search warrant on the farm.
Robert Pickton is now facing 15 counts of first-degree murder in connection with women who have gone missing over the years from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Another four families have been told their loved ones' DNA has been found at the farm, though no charges have been laid.
Despite the stigma associated with the farm and the fact that Pickton's brother and sister have no access to or use of the sealed-off property, the assessment has increased from just over $3 million a year ago to almost $3.5 million today.
Steve Bosch, Vancouver Sun / RCMP set up security fence and police line around entire property of the Pickton farm at the beginning of their intensive search in February 2002.
Linda and David Pickton are appealing the increase.
"How can they charge us for improvements that are not ours, that we have no control over and that are going to be demolished?" Linda asked Tuesday. "I don't understand why the assessor is not being logical."
She also said the assessment authority denied them farm classification, and assessed the land as if it is being used for industrial purposes, even though it is not.
Mike Lomax, the deputy assessor for the authority's tri-cities office, said Tuesday that every effort was made to fairly assess the Pickton farm given the high-profile nature of the property.
"Because of the profile of this property we had to ensure that anything we did was fair for the rest of the taxpayers and correct in the form of the legislation and that's what happened," Lomax said.
"Unfortunately for the Picktons, it doesn't work out well for them. However it is in accordance with the law."
But he admitted there are no B.C. precedents in which a large crime scene has been cordoned off indefinitely.
"This is probably one of the only situations where you are going to get into this where there is an investigation going on of such duration," Lomax said.
Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun / Tax authorities say any stigma attached to the Pickton farm has not been reflected in sales of neighbouring properties.
Lomax said the fact that the temporary police buildings are not owned by the Picktons makes no difference to the assessment authority.
Any property owner "is assessable for any improvement on their property as of the stated date of Oct. 31 of every year regardless of who owns the improvements or if they are rented to other parties," Lomax said.
In fact, with a commercially zoned property, a lease-holder may construct a building or make improvements, but the property owner is assessed the increase, Lomax explained.
In situations like that, he said, "the owner of the land is still assessed for all those improvements and he passes the tax apportionment off to the owner of the improvements."
But in this case, the RCMP-Vancouver police task force is not paying for use of the site, which will be tied up for at least several more months.
RCMP Constable Catherine Galliford, who speaks for the task force, said any structures police have brought to the property or constructed on site will be removed once the criminal investigation is complete.
"That is the plan," said Galliford. "We will certainly be out there for many months to come."
One carport-style tin-roofed structure that was recently constructed is not included in this year's increased assessment, but will be factored in next year.
Galliford said the new building is to keep large machines operating on the site dry. "It was to keep the rain and moisture off of the equipment, as well as the soil to be sifted."
Lomax said the assessment authority met with police and requested information about their buildings.
"We requested costs from the RCMP. We went to the supplier of the buildings to get the cost and we got all the time frames as to how long it will be tied up." Lomax said.
He said the circumstances of the owner are not factored into assessments.
"We don't look at issues like ... legal cases, crime scene. We don't take into account those things," Lomax said. "And the reason for that is equity in taxation."
Lomax said the authority looked at neighbouring properties, including some that back right on to the pig farm, and the values have not decreased over the past year.
"I think the best indication of stigma would be garnered from the local marketplace. We did look at the sales in the immediate area around Pickton's. We did have some sales that backed on to Pickton's property," Lomax said. "There was no diminished value, no stigmas discount to the value."
But Linda Pickton doesn't accept the rational being presented by Lomax.
"As far as he is concerned, the property has not decreased because of the psychological impact of this case," she said. "Of course there is an impact."
It is too early to say if the increased assessment will mean a large tax increase for the Picktons, Jim Maitland of the city of Port Coquitlam said Tuesday.
He said council will not decide on the 2003 tax rates until March or April. But he said the Pickton increase is on par with others around the city, averaging about 14 per cent.
In two other high-profile Canadian criminal cases, buildings in which the crimes were committed were eventually demolished.
The Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland, where dozens of boys were sexually assaulted and beaten for years, was demolished in 1992. The land was sold by the Christian Brothers to pay compensation to the victims.
And a St. Catharines house once rented by killer Paul Bernardo, in which he and his wife murdered two teens, was torn down in 1996.
The lot remained vacant for three years before its new owners built another house.
Linda, who has had no contact with Robert Pickton since his arrest last Feb. 22, said she and David have great empathy for what the families of the missing women have gone through in the past year.
But she said it has also been a living hell for her and her brother and their families, who feel caught up in events over which they have no control.
"Our family is totally drained emotionally because of this horrendous situation that we find ourselves in," she said.
© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016