Saint John can't appeal $202M drop in LNG assessment unless Irving Oil appeals first

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

The City of Saint John may not be able to appeal the $202 million drop in the assessed value of the Canaport LNG property because the New Brunswick government — not Irving Oil Ltd. — initiated the reduction.

Stephen Ward, director of property valuation for the province, told reporters Friday a municipality can only challenge a property tax assessment if the owner of the property appeals the assessment first.

"That's the only opportunity a third party can contest an assessment," Ward said.

That means if Irving Oil is satisfied with Canaport LNG's newly reduced assessment, there is nothing the city can do to fight it.

Earlier this week, Saint John Coun. Gerry Lowe raised the possibility of the city appealing the new LNG assessment, which reduced the property taxes the company would have had to pay the municipality under last year's valuation by $5.5 million.

But the province may have blocked that option by the way it has handled the issue.

The city and province had expected Irving Oil to appeal a $300 million assessment for the Canaport LNG terminal, which the province had valued it at for the last several years. An appeal by Irving would have permitted the city to intervene in the issue.

It still can if Irving Oil appeals the new $98 million assessment, but the company has given no indication it will.  

"(That's) the only mechanism in place for a third party," Ward said.

Irving Oil has 30 days from receiving its assessment to decide.

On Wednesday, the province revealed it had cut the assessed value of the Canaport LNG site on its own initiative from $299.5 million to $98 million, even though Irving Oil was entitled to challenge the higher number for years to save money on assessment fees and never did.

Every landowner in New Brunswick is required to pay a fee for the cost of assessing their own property, which is set at $1.94 for every $10,000 of assessed value.

In Irving Oil's case, it has been charged $58,000 per year in assessment fees for the Canaport LNG site because of its high assessment.

Ward said the company could have challenged that by appealing the $300 million assessment but never did.

"Irving Oil had the opportunity each year to appeal that portion of their property value and they have not done that in past years," Ward said. 

Despite that, the province decided on its own to undertake a review of the property's value just before it was set to become fully taxable.

The province employs its own group of professional assessors, including specialists in heavy industrial properties, but decided to pay $75,000 to hire Nationwide Consulting — a company from Glen Rock, N.J. — to conduct the LNG assessment.

Ward said it was the first time in 10 years the province has hired an outside firm to conduct a property assessment, and the company recommended cutting the LNG property valuation significantly.

Ward said he accepts the new assessment as accurate, but would not concede that the department's old assessments were inaccurate.