New Brunswick

Premier's office gave go-ahead to fast track new assessment system

Premier Brian Gallant's chief of staff says Service New Brunswick said its new property tax assessment system could be ready in a year instead of three and denies there was any pressure to use the system before it was ready.

Brian Gallant's chief of staff says Service New Brunswick suggested it would be ready for this year

Premier Brian Gallant's office acknowledged it gave the go-ahead to fast track a new property assessment system, but only after Service New Brunswick said it would be ready. (CBC News)

Premier Brian Gallant's office is acknowledging it gave the final go ahead for a fast track adoption of a new trouble-plagued property assessment system, but denies pressuring Service New Brunswick to speed up the project.

"They [Service New Brunswick] suggested they could do it in one year," said Jordan O'Brien, the premier's chief of staff, in an interview with CBC News.

"We asked them to do their due diligence to make sure that was responsible. They provided it. We said, 'OK you know your business, manage your business.'"

Service New Brunswick [SNB] had a three-year plan to gradually introduce a new digital property assessment system — called pictometry — to triple, perhaps quadruple the number of properties it can evaluate each year.

Service New Brunswick made up $61,690 in renovation costs to this house on Beach Road in Saint John to justify a 36 per cent property tax increase.
The system utilizes aerial photography, computer analysis and sophisticated mathematics to calculate property values rapidly, but ran into several problems when Service New Brunswick abandoned the three-year roll out in favour of switching to the new system in less than one year.

'Fast Track' system

SNB called it, "Fast Track."

"It was a runaway train in a live testing environment," said one Service New Brunswick insider on condition of anonymity.

"Fast Track had no time for quality, only revenue. It was unstoppable even amidst major warning signs regularly communicated by staffers."

The system produced some unusual results that were sometimes misinterpreted by SNB employees unfamiliar with the new system.

Problems escalated, culminating with 2,048 homeowners having their property tax bills manipulated by SNB managers who invented renovation amounts to justify large property tax increases.

Insider: Fast Track to blame

"All errors, mistakes, cover-ups, poor results and bad decisions are all Fast Track-related," said one inside source.

SNB insiders blame the premier's office for imposing Fast Track on the agency because the new system promised new revenues by unearthing undervalued properties.

Susie Proulx-Daigle of the New Brunswick Union accused the government of causing the mess. (cbc)
Tuesday the union representing assessors who work for SNB openly accused the government of causing the mess.

"It came from the politicians," said New Brunswick Union President Susie Proulx-Daigle. "It was supposed to take three years to implement this new program and they decide to fast track it and that came from high above. That's what I've been told."

But O'Brien strongly disputes that.

"They had an option to accelerate it and the premier had me ask them questions on his behalf about whether that was responsible and whether it made sense and they provided some evidence that suggested it was," said O'Brien

"We didn't say, 'No, don't do it in one year,' but we also didn't say, 'Rush ahead and do it in one year.'"

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