Raw property assessment data to go online in 2 weeks

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Saint John, Rothesay homeowners debate high property assessments

The New Brunswick government says the data will soon be free.

Service New Brunswick says it will post raw property assessment data online in the next two weeks so that anyone can download it and crunch the numbers however they want.

And other sets of provincial data will be available within a couple of months.

"We are going to be placing all of that information, and that is raw data ... on a GeoNB website, and that'll be in the next couple of weeks," Charles Boulay, the executive director of property assessment services, told CBC News.

"That'll enable anyone who wants to download this raw data to start playing around with it."

Boulay revealed the timeline just hours after a Saint John entrepreneur complained publicly that the province wasn't living up to its open-data rhetoric.

Shawn Peterson of Rothesay, who runs the propertize.ca website, said a new Service New Brunswick site with property assessment numbers makes it harder for him to "scrape" the data and analyze it.

He said in a tweet Wednesday night that his site was "effectively dead" because he could no longer update it with 2017 data.

Easy search

The data consists of addresses, property numbers, and assessed values of those properties, among other things.

Peterson's site used to collect all that information from the old Service New Brunswick site and post it for easy searching and analyzing at no charge.

But the new site, he said, is "a lot more locked down" than the old one, which the province is no longer updating.

The new site has many useful features but it's designed to let people look at the numbers in one way: by searching and selecting individual properties, he said.

"There's a lot of different other ways that you might want to view or visualize or analyze that data," Peterson said.

"I want to view it by a street. I want to view it by an area. I want to see an entire subdivision. I want to emphasize more whether assessments are going up or down. That's not able to be done on the [new] government site."

But later in the day, after Boulay confirmed the data will soon be downloadable in raw form, Peterson declared it was "positive news."

Free of charge

Last year, Premier Brian Gallant told the 2016 Canadian Open Data Summit in Saint John that the province was adopting an open-data policy to make government data available to everyone, free of charge.

Gallant returned to the promise in his State of the Province speech in January, saying the government would be "giving the information in a transparent way to New Brunswickers so they can help us solve some of the problems that we have and seize some of the opportunities that we have."

Nick Scott, the government's newly hired director of innovation, wrote in an online post last year that open data is "accessible, unrestricted, low-cost or free and machine-readable. Open data allows for the use, linking, and repurposing of data sets that can benefit all sectors."

Boulay said more government data sets will be available through a new portal in a couple of months. The property assessment data will be online sooner as a "temporary bridge measure."

Peterson said it was unfortunate that raw property data will only be available in mid-March.

Spike in traffic

He said he sees a spike in traffic every March, when New Brunswickers get their property tax bills and use his site to compare their assessments to others. People who want to appeal their assessments have to do it by the end of March.

"My main thing is I would have liked to have seen it sooner so we could have had this tackled before the tax bills came out," he said.

As it is, he'll need time to post the new data and that may leave only a few days for people to use his site before the appeal deadline.

Boulay, meanwhile, said he wanted to emphasize that the new Service New Brunswick site is the only "official, authorized, sanctioned" source for property assessment information.

Even though sites like Peterson's have the right to use public data, "it's not often accurate anymore," Boulay said. "If we make changes and they don't make the changes, they're peddling information that is not accurate."