What appears to be a widespread of errors in property assessments sent out by Service New Brunswick, are raising questions about the accuracy of property tax bills in the southern part of the province.
Keith Greenhalgh lives on Charles Street East in Saint John and was notified last week of a 21.1 per cent increase in his assessment and property tax bill, an amount he knew had to be a mistake.
"Assessments are supposed to be based on the fair market value of the property and the bill I received was nowhere in line with that figure," said Greenhalgh.
When he called to question the amount he was told, Service New Brunswick was having problems with the computer system that has been calculating tax bills.
Greenhalgh's assessment increase has since been struck and replaced with a 4.6 per cent assessment reduction. The difference in the two property tax bills was $741.
"They indicated they were either using new software or a new algorithm to determine the value of the homes," said Greenhalgh.
Experience not unique
"If you're going to change a process or a procedure of doing something to a new way one would think that you would test this process before unleashing it upon the masses."
Greenhalgh's experience is not unique.
Dozens of homeowners in Rothesay also received unusually large assessment increases last week out of the blue.
Carl Porter has lived in his Highland Avenue home for 12 years. Last year it was assessed at $174,300. This year that has jumped $53,100 or 30.5 per cent, an amount he believes is almost certainly wrong.
"I have done nothing to the house since I moved in so I don't know where the increase would come from," said Porter. "I'm on a fixed income too because I'm retired so it's really hitting."
A sign that Porter's assessment is likely a mistake is the fact he was charged the full 30.5 per cent increase on his tax bill as well, a jump of $617.
New Brunswick has "assessment spike" protection for homeowners and is required to phase in increases above 10 per cent over two or more years. In Porter's case the maximum 10 per cent tax increase he could have gotten — absent some kind of computer error — is $210.
No renovations done
Judy Cole, a Service New Brunswick spokeswoman, said she is not aware of any problems with property assessments in the Rothesay area and says spike protection does not apply if homeowners have undertaken significant renovations.
Still Porter says he did no such thing and a search of property records of streets around his house shows several dozen homes have had assessments jump significantly without any apparent fix up and then been charged property tax increases above the maximum 10 per cent.
Around the corner from Porter on Ian Crescent there are 10 houses.
Last year most were assessed at less than $190,000 and this year most are above $230,000. Eight received assessment and tax increases of between 24 per cent and 38 per cent this year even though most show no sign of upgrades and demand for property in the area is lacklustre.
Homes sell below value
Two houses on Ian Crescent did sell in 2016, but both went for thousands of dollars less than their assessed value.
Shawn Peterson runs the property tax and assessment website propertize.ca and feels something is wrong within a number of neighbourhoods in the Rothesay area.
"You're looking at entire streets and areas in Rothesay where its crazy. It's 20 it's 30 per cent increases for every house," said Peterson.
"These are not million dollar homes. People's tax bills are up $600 or $700 — it's crazy."
Peterson recommends homeowners check the history of their assessment on either the province's assessment website or his own propertize.ca and challenge anything that appears unusual.
"Get educated about you own property. Whether it's a machine error or whatnot, something weird is definitely going on and I don't think people should blindly accept the increases."