FREDERICTON — A newlywed couple in New Brunswick have come forward to claim they are victims of a massive miscalculation on their property tax assessment, adding fuel to growing criticisms the premier failed to oversee and fix a new, but deeply flawed system.
Julie MacLean and husband Mark Robinson say they were stunned to receive a notice one year after buying their home in New Maryland, indicating the assessed value had doubled from about $170,000 to $347,000.
The notice sent the two 29-year-olds scurrying to register complaints against a system that would have added $2,000 to their tax bill — just the latest case among a flurry of complaints over a system that falsely assumed renovations had occurred.
"We had just gotten home from putting a down payment on a used car when the assessment arrived. We didn't know what to do, we couldn't afford it," MacLean said Thursday in a telephone interview.
Service New Brunswick recently told the couple they will fix error after weeks of waiting, but MacLean says cases like hers have caused unneeded worry and overpayments as taxpayers await appeals.
She's looking for greater accountability from the Liberal government.
"To have something like this, where we feel that government doesn't care about us ... It makes it hard to live and stay in New Brunswick," said MacLean, who works as a graphic designer and musician.
"It's more they were forced to do something. I'm not sure they would have done anything publicly if a whistleblower hadn't come forward ... I'm watching and waiting to see what they'll do."
CBC has reported that Premier Brian Gallant confirmed he was aware of a push to quickly implement the new assessment system, which used aerial surveys for recalculations.
However, Gallant has said he didn't know about some of the system's flaws.
The premier said the province ordered a review of what happened and is re-assessing all the bills produced by the new system.
As well, the province has extended the deadline for appeals until August.
Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs has accusing Gallant of taking part in a coverup.
"It was fast-tracked directly at the request of the premier's office. It was a system designed to roll out over three to four years and the (department) group were told to do it in nine to 12 months," he said.
"That meant that the quality checks on how the system worked by home assessment visits was totally bypassed."
Higgs has also accused the Liberals of not telling the public about the flaws because the government wanted to keep the millions in additional income.
"The bigger issue is the premier spent the whole month of March trying to cover this up," Higgs said. "The story is out, the facts are in and the premier made a decision to fast track the system purely to get more money into the coffers."
The Opposition leader also said the review process isn't sufficiently independent, and he argues the issue is one of political accountability.
"It's not the problem of Service New Brunswick, it's a problem of politicians messing in Service New Brunswick. The (civil servants) would have rolled it out effectively if they'd rolled it out over three or four years."
— By Michael Tutton in Halifax.
The Canadian Press