N.B. forest owners to get $500K property tax cut they didn't ask for
Budget provision to help nursing homes generates benefits for unrelated properties
A provision to cut provincial taxes for owners of New Brunswick forest properties by $500,000 per year quietly made it into last week's provincial budget, although it is not clear who, if anyone, asked for the benefit.
It's also unclear whether the planned 15-per-cent tax cut risks reigniting trade trouble in the United States, where New Brunswick forest property taxes have been an issue in the recent past.
New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners president Rick Doucett said provincial property taxes on privately owned timberland are "reasonable" at current rates and his group has not requested any reduction.
"It wasn't us," Doucett said. "It's not an issue any of our people are especially concerned about."
New Brunswick has an estimated 2.8 million hectares of privately owned forest, an area five times the size of Prince Edward Island.
About one quarter of that belongs to J.D. Irving Ltd. That company would save about $130,000 a year from the tax cut, but they did not ask for it either, according to company vice-president of communications Anne McInerney.
"I can confirm we have not spoken to the province," McInerney wrote in an email to CBC News about the tax break.
That suggests the reduction may have been inadvertent.
Budget included plan to lower nursing home taxes
Last week, when New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves announced a series of provincial tax cuts for various categories of properties, he mentioned a plan to lower taxes for nursing homes.
In New Brunswick, nursing homes are in the same property tax category as privately owned forests, with both classified as "other residential" properties.
When property tax cuts were originally proposed by Steeves in 2020 – and later cancelled in the early stages of the pandemic – "other residential" properties were not included among those getting help.
But they are this year and so, without an adjustment to the category or the creation of a new one, cutting taxes for long-term-care facilities means the benefit automatically spills over onto owners of timberland.
"We are extending the tax break to all categories, including other residential properties," Department of Finance communications official Erika Jutras explained in an email.
"Nursing homes and other properties also face a relatively high tax burden."
Taxes on forest properties already deeply discounted
That's not necessarily the case for owners of New Brunswick forest properties, who are already charged deeply discounted amounts from what they used to pay.
Unlike all other properties in the province, tax assessments on forests have been frozen by legislation at $100 per hectare for the last 28 years.
That assessment freeze, added to a series of previous tax rate cuts implemented a decade ago, means the $1.22 per hectare in provincial property tax forest owners currently pay on their holdings is, in inflation-adjusted dollars, less than half of what they paid in the mid-1990s.
That has irked some in the United States, and three years ago New Brunswick was forced to defend its taxation of forest properties in Washington against charges it is too low and subsidizes forestry companies.
New Brunswick won that fight and, although no one appears to have asked, plans now are to move those taxes lower.
The province believes that will not ignite further trade trouble because tax cuts in the budget are being made "broadly across a wide range of property types," and are not being created specifically for owners of forest lands.
"The setting or changing of generally applicable tax rates by a government are not deemed to be a specific subsidy, and therefore aren't actionable," said Johanne LeBlanc, a spokesperson for New Brunswick's Department of Intergovernmental Affairs.
According to budget documents, provincial property taxes on forests will fall to just below $1.04 per hectare by 2024.