A trio of Fredericton apartment buildings that got substantial assessment and tax increases despite being slated for demolition are among the latest group of properties to successfully challenge inflated property tax bills issued by the province by the thousands this spring.
"It was crazy. I don't know what they did," said Fredericton developer George Georges on Thursday about the tax bills he originally got from Service New Brunswick on the three rundown structures he owns on Connaught Street.
The trio of buildings is slated to be torn down next year to make room for a new apartment complex but still got hit with 86 per cent assessment and tax increases that Georges has been disputing for the past six months.
Last week he finally won a $472,300 assessment reduction on the buildings and a $12,338.36 refund on his tax bill.
"All I know, it was a big mistake," he said. "Those buildings are a dump. They're 60 or 70 years old."
Property owners like Georges continue to win impressive reductions in their tax assessments and bills, victories that come with a mounting cost to the province and which undermine early government claims that a new property assessment system it rushed into service this year was less error prone than earlier methods.
Last April, Premier Brian Gallant acknowledged the new assessment system had its problems but said it had still generated just 3,000 errors overall, a fraction of the number committed in previous years.
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"We were told the error rate has gone down substantially," Gallant said about Service New Brunswick's evaluation of the success of its new method.
"From 2011 to 2014 there were an average of 9,000 errors per year."
But those claims of minor mistakes in assessments and tax bills this year have not held up through the summer.
On Tuesday, Service New Brunswick updated its assessment data base that revealed it had to cut faulty assessments on several hundred properties over the last month, including on those three Fredericton apartment buildings.
Also winning substantial reductions in those latest revisions were Costco, which protested a $250,000 assessment increase on its Moncton store and won a $487,000 reduction and JD Irving Ltd., which got 95 per cent of a $141,000 assessment increase on its private airplane hanger in Saint John wiped out.
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Service New Brunswick did not respond to questions about its current error rate on Thursday but following those Tuesday revisions, the total number of assessment and tax errors it has been forced to fix since bills were issued in March and documented in changes to its data base passed the 14,000 mark.
That's 55 per cent more than the average of previous years — with several thousand disputed tax bills still to be evaluated.
Over, 5,800 of the errors have been related to improper tax rates being charged to property owners but the majority, over 8,000, have been inflated property assessments — mostly generated by the new assessment system.
Service New Brunswick has been forced to reduce each one and the province has had to refund excess taxes charged, even in cases where the extra amount billed went to a municipality.
"We just eat it as a province," Gallant explained last spring about how property tax refunds work.
More than $6 million in tax refunds are owed to property owners because of inflated assessments, with the largest number of errors detected in Saint John.