Property tax reform not likely anytime soon, finance minister says

1 / 2
Delay in legal weed throws off provincial budget projection

New Brunswick's finance minister said she is "open to dialogue" with the City of Saint John about its financial problems but she's not open to immediate reforms of the property tax system.

Rogers suggested the reforms endorsed this week by Saint John city council would amount to a repeal of the Equal Opportunity program introduced by Louis Robichaud in the 1960s. 

The program centralized the property tax system in New Brunswick and also created an equal level of funding for essential services across the province.

Implications for other cities, towns 

Saint John is requesting that the province stop adding its own layer of property tax to what municipalities already charge.  

But Roger said such a change would have implications for other municipalities and the services the province provides.

"If you're going to stop collecting a tax, you've gotta think, where is the revenue going to come from to pay for health and education services and justice for New Brunswickers?" she said in an interview with Information Morning Saint John.

"It's not a simple shift."

Rogers said the province has made a commitment to working with Saint John on its financial problems, "but really, this commitment did not include repealing the Equal Opportunity program."

Saint John also wants the province to allow municipalities to control the creation of tax classes and control tax rates and to lift its pre-election freeze on property assessments.

Rogers stressed that the province is committed to talking about the issues with Saint John council and city manager Jeff Trail, who prepared the property tax report and recommendations.

She wouldn't say for sure whether she or other cabinet ministers will be meeting with them. 

'That's not equal opportunity' 

Saint John Mayor Don Darling said he understands if there is some resistance to what council is asking for, but he wants the province to meet with city officials to at least to discuss the proposal.

"We want to make sure everyone understands how real this is for this community," he said.

"It's simply wrong that this city is suffering the way that it is, and communities 10 minutes away are thriving. That's not equal opportunity."

He argued that the proposal isn't a "knee-jerk" reaction to the city's current financial struggles, but that they are trying to be strategic.

System needs overhaul 

But Coun. David Merrithew argued some of the changes Saint John is asking for could be done immediately.

"We sincerely believe that this could be a win-win for every municipality in the province," he said.

He also said the current system is outdated, given that it was created over 50 years ago and hasn't been significantly changed since then.

"This system is done, it's over," he said.

"Anything half a century old is due for an update. Let's try to fix it with the people who are impacted by it."