Service New Brunswick to spend $1M to fix property assessment flaws

Service New Brunswick will spend an extra $1 million this year as it seeks to regain the confidence of property owners shaken by last year's assessment fiasco.

Crown corporation will hire back 10 assessors as part of effort to regain public trust

More than 18,500 property owners challenged the assessments done by Service New Brunswick for last year's tax bills. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)

Service New Brunswick will spend an extra $1 million this year as it seeks to regain the confidence of property owners shaken by last year's assessment fiasco.

That's the cost of implementing recommendations by Auditor-General Kim MacPherson, which included creating an internal quality-assurance unit and making assessment notices easier to understand by separating them from tax bills.

The Crown corporation will also hire back 10 retired property assessors to help deal with the workload.

Service New Brunswick CEO Alan Roy said the $1 million the corporation will spend includes hiring outside consultants to provide advice, "in particular around the methodologies used for property assessment."

The corporation will also spend $80,000 to develop an annual "outreach" campaign, which will include sending staff to home shows in the province's three largest cities, and posting new videos and infographics to explain how assessments work.

"A lot of hard work and long hours have gone into this year's property tax cycle to avoid any further frustration for property owners," said Serge Rousselle, the minister responsible for Service New Brunswick.

After problems last year, Premier Brian Gallant said confidence in property assessment was at an "all time low." (CBC News)

"But I also want to acknowledge that with over 470,000 properties in the province, communications between property owners and assessors is important."

This year's property assessment notices will be mailed out March 1. Assessment data will be posted online five days later, allowing property owners to compare their evaluation to those nearby and to recent property sales.

Starting next year, there will be one mailing for a property's assessment value, and a separate mailing for the tax notice. The tax notice will explain more clearly why the amount has changed.

Premier Brian Gallant acknowledged last year that confidence in the assessment system was at "an all-time low." Rousselle said 18,596 property owners applied for reviews of their 2017 assessments.

That was the result of the agency adopting a "fast track" for a new automated assessment system that mistakenly inflated property values and the corresponding tax bills sent to their owners.

Serge Rouselle, the minister responsible for Service New Brunswick, said the government is doing everything it can to avoid any more frustration for property owners. (CBC)

It also emerged that some Service New Brunswick managers concocted imaginary renovations to justify the higher assessments.

The Liberal government responded by freezing all assessments for 2018 at last year's levels. There are exceptions if a property's value goes down or if a property is sold or its use is changed.

Rousselle said Tuesday that 98 per cent of the requests for assessment reviews have now been processed, and only 344 reviews are outstanding.

The owners of those 344 properties will get their 2018 notices later than March 1 because their values this year are pegged to last year because of the freeze.

The minister said the blitz of new publicity is designed "to better communicate with property owners." Assessors will be answering questions at Service New Brunswick kiosks at home shows in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton this spring.

Service New Brunswick CEO Alan Roy said the $1 million the corporation will spend includes hiring outside consultants to provide advice, "in particular around the methodologies used for property assessment."