New Brunswick

Several Service New Brunswick managers survive property assessment scandal

The day after the release of New Brunswick Auditor General Kim MacPherson's searing report naming senior Service New Brunswick managers as the primary cause of the province's property tax scandal, homeowners caught up in the scheme want to know how those responsible will be held accountable.

Homeowner says those responsible should be held accountable

Brian Lynch's had a $1,500 increase in his property tax bill for his home in Saint John. He wants someone to be held accountable for the property tax scandal. (Robert Jones/CBC)

The day after the release of New Brunswick Auditor General Kim MacPherson's searing report naming senior Service New Brunswick managers as the primary cause of the province's property tax scandal, homeowners caught up in the scheme want to know how those responsible will be held accountable.

So far among executives and managers in charge during the scandal there has been one retirement, two internal transfers and a couple of promotions.

Brian Lynch, who was stunned by a $1,500 increase in his property tax bill in March, is hoping for stronger action.

"They perpetrated a fraud on myself and many other homeowners by putting false numbers into the system and anything that is falsified is fraud," he said. 

Lynch's tax increase was eventually revoked when it was discovered a new assessment system had overvalued his home by $77,700, and Service New Brunswick managers had been using a formula to add fake home renovation amounts to property accounts like his that maximized tax increases. 

Face the consequences

Now that MacPherson has named names Lynch wants those responsible to face consequences.

New Brunswick Auditor General Kim MacPherson has declined to call the decision to fabricate renovation amounts on homes a crime but did declare it inappropriate. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
"If you just move them sideways or if they're still around and moved over to another department, it doesn't seem right," he said. "If somebody who is in a position of power to direct the civil service has given instructions for filing documents that are incorrect and most likely fraudulent then they should bear consequences for those actions."

MacPherson revealed a number of new details about the property tax scandal Thursday, including that a plan to make up renovation amounts on homes that had not been fixed up, was not a last minute decision. 

In New Brunswick, houses cannot be given property tax increases of more than 10 per cent per year unless they have undergone significant improvements.

Senior managers named

MacPherson told a committee of MLAs it was unclear to her exactly who devised the fake renovation idea but for the first time she did name the Executive Director of Property Assessment Services, Charles Boulay as the senior person who approved the plan.

Charles Boulay has been named by Auditor General Kim MacPherson as the senior person to approve the plan to add fake renovations to property tax bills. (Roger Cosman/CBC)
She detailed how someone else, just underneath Boulay, brought the scheme to him but he was the key person to agree to it.

"Property Assessment Services management recommended the formula to the executive director," she said. "There were probably meetings and discussions about this and I think the important point, which is in the report, is that it was the executive director that approved it."

Lower level employees were not told about the scheme until February of this year, less than a month before property tax bills were to be issued.  

That lead to an assumption it was a desperate last minute idea but MacPherson revealed it had been drawn up and approved five months earlier, in September, and had always been part of the planning for a new assessment system.

She declined to call the decision to fabricate renovation amounts on homes a crime but did declare it inappropriate.

"We didn't go to the extent of assessing whether or not it was fraudulent. We do indicate quite clearly I think that it was not industry standard, industry practice to make such an assumption," MacPherson said.

Service New Brunswick was not able to tell her how many homeowners it used the fabricated renovation formula on. 

"The formula was applied to at least 2,022 properties," read MacPherson's report. "There were additional properties with this formula applied, however, Property Assessment Services is unable to identify exactly how many."  

Retirements, promotions

There have been changes at Service New Brunswick since the tax controversy erupted but so far all of the senior managers directly involved with the property assessment controversy have remained with the provincial government, except one who retired.

Prior to MacPherson's report being released, it was first shared with Service New Brunswick for comment and Charles Boulay was subsequently moved from his position as executive director of assessment services to a new position with the department's property registry division.

Service New Brunswick senior managers Alan Roy and Stephen Ward were promoted to new positions despite their involvement in the fast track implementation. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

One of his direct subordinates, Stephen Ward, has been promoted to replace him as acting executive director. Ward had been director of property valuation inside the assessment branch as the controversy unfolded and was heavily involved with fast track decisions.

Boulay's direct supervisor, Alan Roy was promoted from vice president to chief executive officer of Service New Brunswick in Sept. 2016 in the middle of fast track implementation and remains in that position.   

The former Chief Executive Officer Gordon Gilman finished out his career as a deputy minister and retired on Wednesday, on the eve of MacPherson's report being released.

Rene Landry was director of modernization in charge of executing fast track but was transferred inside Service New Brunswick to its project management division. (Roger Cosman/CBC)
Rene Landry, who had been director of modernization in charge of executing fast track was transferred inside Service New Brunswick to its project management division, and Stephane Melanson remains in his position as a director.

Brian Lynch feels what happened to him and thousands of others like him was too serious for the punishments he has seen so so far.

"If there are people who are definitely responsible and can be identified for what happened they should be facing some sort of discipline," said Lynch

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