Hundreds of homeowners caught up in New Brunswick's property tax scandal were receiving notices of significant assessment and tax reductions Monday, but not all were satisfied and questions remain about what went wrong in the first place.
"It's difficult when you see something that wasn't handled very ethically and wasn't fixed expeditiously," said Saint John resident Jill Jollineau, who has received notice of a $1,447 reduction in her tax bill following a review of her initial property tax assessment.
Jollineau is one of hundreds of homeowners who had hugely inaccurate property assessments performed on their homes by the province's controversial new "pictometry" assessment system — and were then doubly harmed by how Service New Brunswick managers dealt with those inaccurate assessments.
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Jollineau's assessment jumped more than 50 per cent in March, mostly because of inaccurate modelling of her property by pictometry.
But assessment officials made the mistake much worse by deciding an increase of that size must have been caused by significant renovations. They fabricated $79,780 in improvements on her property even though there had been none.
That allowed the province to evade a legal restriction that forbids residential property taxes from increasing by more than 10 per cent per year unless there have been major improvements, and so Jollineau's tax bill jumped more than 50 per cent.
In her new bill, the province lowered Jollineau's assessment increase to 17 per cent and her tax increase to the legal limit of 10 per cent.
Although that lowers her tax bill significantly, Jollineau said she plans to challenge the new amounts and wants a full explanation from a review underway about what happened to homeowners like her.
"What was the mechanism that resulted in 2,048 people being taxed illegally," said Jollineu. "I would like an answer. I think as a citizen I deserve an answer."
12,400 challenges pending
Jollineau may have to wait months to have the latest assessment reviewed. The province says a record 16,416 property owners have challenged their tax bills this year and more than 12,400 of those have still not been dealt with.
There were 2,048 homeowners assessed the same way as Jollineu, and Monday the province said a recent review of 1,858 of those showed 93 per cent had been taxed too high.
Six per cent stayed the same and one per cent decreased, the government said.
In Saint John, Joan Brenton said she and her husband were notified Monday that the $771 property tax increase the province initially slapped on their north end house in March was being reduced to less than a $60 increase following a reinspection of their property by a human assessor.
"We're happy. We're very satisfied," said Brenton.
In Fredericton, Local Government Minister Serge Rousselle said the large errors turning up in assessments that are now being acknowledged and fixed are more the fault of department officials who did not catch them, rather than the pictometry that generated them in the first place.
"For these 2,000 or so cases the quality control was not done," said Rousselle. "We had a quality control system that was not used in this case."
With pictometry imagery, the province has been able to gather and use data for reassessments more quickly by taking pictures of properties across New Brunswick by airplane.