New Brunswick property tax system inflated home values by combined $52M, records show

New Brunswick's new property assessment system was so error-prone this year it routinely misjudged house values by wide margins and was 36 times more likely to overestimate homeowners' tax bills than underestimate them, according internal government records obtained by CBC News.

New pictometry system was 36 times more likely to overestimate homeowners' tax bills than underestimate

Brian Lynch's Beach Road home, right, and his neighbour's home, left, were both originally hit with assessment increases of more than $80,000, but a review found 91 per cent of Lynch's increase was unjustified. (CBC)

New Brunswick's new property assessment system was so error-prone this year it routinely misjudged house values by wide margins and was 36 times more likely to overestimate homeowners' tax bills than underestimate them, according to internal government records obtained by CBC News.

The Gallant government suggested this week a new pictometry assessment system pressed into use two years ahead of schedule by Service New Brunswick is not to blame for the province's ongoing property tax scandal.

But government records show provincial assessors dispatched around the province this spring to visually reinspect houses assessed by the new system that were not originally double-checked by department officials found only 269 out of 1,868 had been valued properly.

By contrast, the vast majority, 1,556 homes, were found to be overvalued by a combined $52.2 million. The remaining 43 homes were found to be undervalued by $1.2 million.

Brian Lynch owns one of the properties assessors visited this spring to recheck the value given to it by the new assessment system.

I'd be interested to find out what it was that caused these values to be inflated so much.- Brian Lynch, Saint John homeowner

Originally, the assessment on Lynch's Beach Road home in Saint John jumped $85,400 in March, but the review found 91 per cent of the increase to be unjustified.

He's satisfied with that finding but wants to know why the first assessment was so high.

"When we got the original one, it certainly didn't make any sense," said Lynch.

"I'd be interested to find out what it was that caused these values to be inflated so much."

Off by average 14%

Lynch's property is one of five on Beach Road with large assessment increases imposed by the new system that were later reviewed and undone by a human assessor.

Assessment officials who reviewed the 1,868 homes found valuations were off by an average of 14 per cent per home — mostly too high — which wrongly inflated owners' tax bills.

Findings of 1,868 residential assessment reinspections
AssessmentNumberAmount
Too high1,556$52.2 milion
Too low43$1.2 million
Accurate269$0

On Monday, Local Government Minister Serge Rousselle cautioned against questioning the reliability of the province's new desk top pictometry assessment system since the cases that have been reviewed had not been properly double- checked last winter.

"With all due respect I should remind you that the pictometry system, there is computer work and there was quality control," said Rousselle.

"I think we should be careful because for these 2,000 or so cases, the quality control was not done."

The visual reinspection of properties was launched by the province after CBC News uncovered widespread errors with both assessments and taxes, including an arbitrary formula being applied in 2,048 of the bills issued in March.

The premier's office has denied any role in pushing to accelerate the adoption of a new assessment system that eventually caused a number of the problems, though Service New Brunswick documents obtained by CBC News claimed the premier himself requested it.

The controversy has caused more than 16,000 property owners to contest their tax bill this year.

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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