New agency should reassess all properties, Saint John deputy mayor says

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New agency should reassess all properties, Saint John deputy mayor says

Saint John's deputy mayor is welcoming news an independent organization will take over property tax assessments in New Brunswick.

Shirley McAlary has been one of the leaders in the city's push for reform of the property tax system.

The announcement Monday by Premier Brian Gallant followed revelations reported by CBC News that Service New Brunswick invented renovation amounts for 2,048 homeowners with large assessment increases this spring, allowing it to evade a legal 10 per cent cap on increases on the homes' property tax bills.

"We feel and have felt that there's a number of industries that perhaps are not assessed correctly," said McAlary, who would like to see the proposed new authority begin its job with a clean slate.

- 'I sincerely apologize to all New Brunswickers': Assessment mess prompts overhaul 

- 'They did it on purpose': Province accused of deliberately overcharging homeowners on property taxes 

"Would this agency consider reviewing all properties in the province?"

The city's municipal government has been at the forefront of the push to reform the province's tax assessment system, going so far in January as to hire academics Enid Slack and Harry Kitchen to study whether the tax burden "is fair and equitable" when it comes to the division between commercial, industrial, residential and institutional properties.

The two Ontario-based experts will be paid $25,000 to do the study and make recommendations.

Their report is expected in December.

In May 2016, council voted unanimously to ask the provincial government to repeal a special property tax deal for the Canaport LNG terminal.

McAlary was the author of the motion, which passed unanimously.

While the Gallant government agreed to the request, it then slashed the appraised value of the property by $202 million, a reduction that saves Irving Oil about $5.5 million in property taxes it would have owed the city under the earlier valuation of $299 million, which would have generated a tax bill of $8 million.

The Irving Oil refinery is assessed at $98 million.

A six-week "maintenance and infrastructure" turnaround at the refinery in the fall of 2016 was valued by the company at $135 million.

Irving Oil's busy oil-by-rail terminal on nearby Bayside Drive is assessed at $1.28 million, while the Tim Hortons across the street gets a higher tax bill, with an assessment of $1.4 million.

As investigation by CBC reporter Robert Jones found Saint John homeowners now pay about 61 per cent of city taxes, up from 55 per cent in 2000.

Another city councillor, John MacKenzie, said the new assessment agency must be truly independent of the provincial government.

If you're going to change the way of doing it, it can't be an illusion," MacKenzie said. "It can't be just making it look like you're making change. It's got have a different structure altogether, I think."

Mayor Don Darling could not be reached Tuesday for comment.