'I would like to have a real apology': tax scandal victims speak out
Homeowners challenge government's claims they were clearly told about status of manipulated tax bills
Homeowners at the centre of the province's property tax scandal are disputing government claims they have been notified about what happened to them and given clear explanations about the status of their manipulated tax bills.
"I don't know anything," said Kandise Brown, a Fredericton resident who says she has had no definitive word from the province that she is among the 2,048 homeowners whose treatment triggered the controversy and are eligible for special treatment.
"I want more information. I want to know what's going on. I just feel nothing has been communicated clearly to me."
In Brown's case her Fredericton property bears all the signs of being one of the 2,048 homes that triggered the scandal — namely her tax bill jumped 34 per cent, despite a law limiting increases to 10 per cent plus the cost of "major improvement."
Brown did add a deck to the back of her house last year, but it wasn't the $43,000 renovation Service New Brunswick made up and added to her file to justify her 34 per cent tax hike.
'It doesn't make any sense'
"I was like — what in the world? It doesn't make any sense," said Brown.
Homeowners with fabricated renovation amounts like that have been promised new "visual" assessments from scratch. They are also eligible for a three-month extension on the May 31 deadline to pay their tax bills.
"All property owners identified by SNB to have miscalculations on their 2017 tax bill were sent written correspondence notifying them of the error," the agency said in an email to CBC News earlier this week.
Vaguely worded letter
But Brown and others dispute that, pointing out the only letter they received came before the scandal fully erupted.
The letter also contained neither the word "error" nor "miscalculations" and was too vaguely worded to reasonably connect to the controversy.
"On or about March 1st you received a Real Property and Tax Notice for the property listed above," reads the form letter sent to Brown six weeks ago.
"Property and Assessment Services will review your assessment and tax notice to ensure it's accuracy. An amended notice will be issued. Please be advised that your amended bill will be forwarded by June 7. The new bill will reflect a new payment date which will reflect the new billing date."
At the time the letter was sent, Service New Brunswick was hiding, not explaining, how it had manipulated homeowner tax bills by fabricating renovation amounts and Brown said she was unsure if the letter was connected to that wrongdoing or something else.
"My letter doesn't even say there was an error. It just says my bill is going to be reviewed for accuracy," said Brown.
"Given my property tax I felt pretty confident I was in that [affected] group. But from the letter I got I wasn't sure at all."
'I would appreciate knowing'
In Saint John, Jill Jollineau, whose tax bill jumped 53 per cent despite no renovations, got the same letter and has the same uncertainty about whether it was connected to the scandal.
"It was a generic letter," said Jollineau, who is still unsure if she is part of the group of 2,048 homeowners promised a visual reassessment and an extra three months to pay.
"I would appreciate knowing."
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In Rothesay James Magee, whose tax bill increased 30 per cent with no renovations, also got a letter but did not view it as significant at the time.
"I don't know exactly how it read," said Magee.
To be safe Magee filed for a review of his tax bill in the traditional way and is not sure if he's in that long line or is to get one of the expedited visual reassessments promised to homeowners with manipulated bills.
'There's no accountability'
He's also uncertain whether his tax bill is due May 31, as are the general public's, or on Sept. 1, which applies to those caught in the controversy. He's not impressed by the entire affair.
"There's no accountability," Magee said. "What's the process here of people being accountable to have ordered this stuff?"
Brown says since Service New Brunswick caused the controversy it should be communicating more with those affected by it.
"I would like to have a letter or some kind of a phone call that explicitly says that I was in the affected group with huge errors in them," Brown said.
"I would like to know where my appeal stands at this point — it's been over a month and I haven't heard anything at all.
"And I would like to have a real apology because it seems to me that this was on purpose."