Death and taxes

DSC_0180It’s always heartening to see our tax dollars at work – even the ones we don’t owe. That’s why I don’t begrudge forking over a few more bucks to squeeze the odd mea culpa out of a hard-working civil servant in this province.

“With this matter of (property) assessments, Service New Brunswick has discovered 2,400 miscalculations, which it is now moving to correct,” that organization’s communications director Nichole Bowman informed the Telegraph-Journal earlier this week. “A new bill will be issued to all impacted property owners. (Those affected) will receive a letter flagging the problem by April 1 and an amended tax bill by June 1. They will have 30 days to request another review. Service New Brunswick apologizes to property owners for any inconvenience this has caused.”

What’s arguable, of course, is whether provincial assessors would have noticed the “miscalculations” in the normal execution of their public duties had a rising tide of public outrage and media coverage had not swept onto their doorsteps over the past couple of weeks.

“A CBC review of New Brunswick property tax records in six communities shows the provincial government billed 1,186 homeowners for property tax increases of more than 20 per cent this year, despite legislation that forbids increases above 10 per cent, plus the cost of new construction,” the public broadcaster reported yesterday. “It is more than 10 times the number of homeowners who got a tax increase that large last year.”

Consider poor Jamie Watling’s predicament. According to the CBC the Quispamsis man “saw his tax bill increase 32.9 per cent after the province raised his assessment $59,700. His renovation? Two $300 laundry room windows he installed himself on a Saturday last year. ‘I think our reaction was laughter,’ Watling said when he and his wife opened their tax bill. ‘We couldn’t believe it.’

By law, Watling’s tax bill can only increase $241 this year (10 per cent of last year’s bill) plus 1.28 per cent of the value of his two new windows.”

Still, before we mount our high horses, pitchforks in hand, it behoves us to remember this is not the first time residential property assessments in New Brunswick have been wonky, and it won’t be the last. The process nationwide, regardless of province, is anything but scientific. Just ask our fellow Canadians in Hog Town and La La Land.

Last year, the Toronto Star reported: “A blistering housing market has prompted a 30 per cent jump in residential property values over the last four years, according to the company that assesses real estate in the province.

City homeowners will receive assessment notices – their first since 2012 – from the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. (MPAC) beginning next week showing a 7.5 per cent annual increase in their property values.

“That’s above the 4.5 per cent provincial average, but lower than the double-digit increases in some 905-area communities such as Richmond Hill and Markham. The average assessed value for a single-family detached home in Toronto is $770,000, up about $200,000 on average from the last assessment in 2012. Toronto condo values increased on average to $363,000, about $35,000 higher than four years ago.”

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, according to the Globe and Mail two months ago, “Assessments for single-family detached houses jumped 30 per cent to 50 per cent in value from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016. For example, a typical detached home on a lot with a width of 33 feet (10 metres) on Vancouver’s west side soared 41 per cent in value.”

Oh well, what is it they say about death and taxes?

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