The chair of Saint John's finance committee says city council is being forced to make its tax dollars go farther than those in other cities in the province.
Coun. David Merrithew notes the city has often been criticized for having the highest property tax rate in the province at 1.785 cents per $100 of assessed value.
But an assessment comparison with the cities of Moncton and Fredericton reveals it doesn't have more money to spend.
Data released by Saint John's finance department shows the total value of all residential properties in Fredericton is $600 million higher than the much larger City of Saint John. Moncton's homes are worth about $800 million more than Saint John's overall value.
Even when industrial, commercial and institutional properties are factored in, the total tax base in Fredericton is just two per cent smaller than the total assessment pool in Saint John.
Merrithew argues owners of a similar home get a better deal in Saint John than in Fredericton and Moncton.
"We are not taxed the highest in the province," he said.
"Even though we have a higher tax rate our taxes are lower here in the city of Saint John."
Not every homeowner pays less
However, it isn't difficult to find exceptions, said Saint John software developer Shawn Peterson.
Peterson who maintains the property assessment website, propertize.ca, found stark differences when he plugged in two similar style family homes in Fredericton and Saint John — the Saint John house is assessed at almost $20,000 lower, but the tax bill is slightly higher.
"The same house, two different neighbourhoods … $2,489 versus $2,614," Peterson said. "This house is assessed at how much less? And they're still paying more taxes in Saint John."
Merrithew notes 31 per cent of properties in Saint John had their assessments lowered in 2014.
"I don't know why we're assessed lower. We have older housing stock," Merrithew said.
"What I'm looking for is that people understand we have a very big city. We have great staff and management that do well with the money we have. And we have less money than those in those other two cities."
Saint John has more infrastructure to take care of, and has far more kilometres of streets than Moncton or Fredericton. The two cities together can fit inside Saint John's boundaries with room to spare.
The city's older housing stock also puts a bigger burden on emergency services.
"It makes it harder for staff and council to make ends meet with the money we receive. And we took a hit on the industrial base with lower assessments on some mills locally," said Merrithew.
JD Irving's east-side paper mill and it's west-side pulp mill, which had been assessed at a combined $112.5 million this time last year, according to propertize.ca, had that slashed 48 per cent to just $58.4 million this year. That instantly shaved $2.7 million off the mill's property tax bills, about half of that due to the city.