New Brunswick’s assessment system has been a hot topic in the media over the past few weeks and months. An important takeaway for property owners is that the appeal deadline for 2017 has been extended four months to August 1, 2017. This significantly lengthens the traditional 30 day appeal period.

Changes to Come

Recent media articles have provided insight into the stark reality and the intricacies and nuances of the assessment system experienced daily by property tax consultants. It is clear that the public interest has been piqued as the articles have been the topic of much debate and opinion. In response, the provincial government made three notable announcements on April 3rd:

  • Former Justice Joseph Robertson had been appointed by the province to lead a review of all policies and procedures related to recent assessment processes.
  • The province will look to introduce an independent agency to oversee property assessment.
  • The 2017 appeal deadline has been extended to August 1, 2017.

 

Significant developments in the narrative did not conclude there as evidenced with two recent announcements:

  • In early June, Former Justice Robertson stepped down from his review as NB’s Auditor General Kim McPherson had announced she would oversee her own independent audit.
  • In late June, it was revealed the provincial government will be freezing the 2018 assessments to match those of 2017. Legislation is to be introduced in the fall and much of the specifics in this regard are to be seen.

 

The current situation is dynamic and the ultimate ramifications will play out in the coming weeks, months and years. In the short term, the legislation and updates surrounding the 2018 assessment freeze will be of particular interest as there are various exceptions and special circumstances to consider. These include properties with new construction or major building improvements, properties under appeal for 2017, properties with real estate transactions, and those with decreases warranted from assessment findings.

From there the NB Auditor General’s findings and the form of the independent agency will both be of particular importance to New Brunswick tax payers moving forward. Regarding the NB Auditor General’s review, the findings are expected late in the year. With respect to the independent agency, the NB Government has said they will be targeting 2019 to have this in place.

Ultimately this is just the beginning of the conversation on the subject of property tax reform in NB. As such, it is imperative for those in the know to promote the most constructive changes possible.  While seemingly easy fixes of the assessment processes have been suggested, the reality is that this is a complex system with numerous integrated components. The specifics go well beyond the scope of this article, but there is no “quick fix” as we need to be cognizant that for 2016 we are talking about over 449,000 assessments totaling over $60.2 billion of assessed value.

The Need for Fairness and Equity

One common frustration appears to be that of fairness; an appropriate public aspiration in our view.  The first thing a taxpayer will consider to determine whether their assessment and taxes are excessive is how do they compare to the assessment and taxes of their neighbours. This illustrates one of the biggest shortcomings of New Brunswick’s assessment system and the New Brunswick Assessment Act; we have no equity provision in New Brunswick.

There is no mechanism in place for a property owner to appeal their assessments on the basis of the assessment of a similar property. Based on current legislation, there is no obligation on the assessment authority to assess two like properties in the same way.  There can be two very similar properties with two very different assessments yet under the current system you cannot argue that this is unjust. Our view is that the lack of an equity provision is a major deficiency of assessment legislation in New Brunswick and one that puts New Brunswick taxpayers at a disadvantage compared to other provinces.

To put this in perspective, there are very few assessment regions within Canada whose assessment legislation does not include an equity provision. The only other province without any equity provisions is the Province of Quebec.

Our colleagues in other jurisdictions routinely refer to an old 1881 Supreme Court of Canada decision that originated in Saint John New Brunswick.  In its ruling the Jonas v. Gilbert the court stated:

“Unless the legislative authority otherwise ordains, everybody having property or doing business in the country is entitled to assume that taxation shall be fair and equal, and that no one class of individuals, or one species of property, shall be unequally or unduly assessed”

It is ironic that the province of origin of this comment has omitted equity from its Assessment Act. Given the urgency to reform New Brunswick’s assessment and property tax system, we urge decision makers to incorporate fairness and equity into any new assessment changes, as fairness and equity are the foundation of any ad valorem taxation system.

If you have any questions or concerns related to this article, we encourage you to reach out to your Altus Group representative. Again, the New Brunswick appeal deadline has been extended to August 1, 2017 and if you have not reviewed your assessment in recent years, we suggest you do so this year. Please contact Rob Newman (506-869-4906) or Mathieu Maillet (506-866-3888) if you have any questions.