Student develops tax estimator app for City of Powell River

Online tool will provide breakdown of where property taxes are allocated

City of Powell River’s new tax tool will provide property owners with an estimation of their 2019 tax bills.

The tax estimator is an online app developed for the city by 17-year-old Ben Collings, who is a grade 12 student at Brooks Secondary School.

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In using the tax estimator, homeowners input the assessed value of their property, whether the lot is vacant or not, their homeowner grant, if applicable, and then arrive at a total estimate for property tax and utilities.

The property tax is all driven from assessment and tax rates.

“It breaks down the percentage change and compares it with other homes in the city and how your house compares in the change of the average from last year to this year,” said city chief financial officer Adam Langenmaier.

The accuracy of the estimator is within approximately $100, according to Langenmaier, because the cost of utilities between property frontages had to be averaged at 80 feet.

The tax estimator also shows where property taxes are going to services and regional authorities. The city collects all residential taxes for the municipality, school district, utilities, qathet Regional District and Powell River Regional Hospital District.

Prior to taking on the tax estimator project, Collings had been doing web development since 2017. He said he started with the tax calculator months ago after having connected with Langenmaier to create a product for calculating taxes for residential properties.

“I pitched an idea and he [Langenmaier] accepted, and I started developing it,” said Collings.

Collings, who has been taking calculus at school, said the math component was not an especially difficult process.

“The hardest part was making the inputs work properly, because although I do web development, I don’t do that part very often, accepting user input and making sure that what people type in doesn’t break everything,” said Collings. “It’s a more involved task than what you might think.”

Collings worked on the project for 20 to 30 hours, but over the course of several months, mostly because the city was not always ready to proceed, because it was in the process of developing its new website.

Langenmaier said he wanted to create a tax calculator where a taxpayer could type in their assessment from this year and get some background information about what is driving the change.

“One of the worst things is not understanding something and still having to pay for it,” said Langenmaier.

With the volatility in assessments this past year, Langenmaier said it is a helpful time to bring an app like this out so people can have an understanding of their tax bills.

All the information is out there in the public realm, but it is not in one place altogether, according to Langenmaier. How it all jives is beyond a reasonable expectation for someone to sit down and calculate their taxes, he said.

City tax notices will be out in a month or so but the tax estimator gives residents a tool now to give them a heads-up regarding their tax bills for 2019.

Collings said he is excited with how the project went.

“I thought it was great I got the opportunity to make it,” he said. “I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I’m really happy to see my work up there for people to use.”

Collings said he has calculated his parent’s taxes several times during the process of developing the app, to check how accurate it is, and he hopes the estimator is easy for taxpayers to use.

“I wanted to make sure when I was designing it that no matter how familiar you are with computers, you can figure out how to use it,” he added.

Collings hopes, after graduation, to pick up some courses at Vancouver Island University’s Powell River campus, before heading off to University of Victoria to study computer science. He hopes to make a career of software development.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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