Tag Archives: property taxes

N.B.’s property tax vernacular

What the heck does the word “pictometry” mean? Apparently, it denotes one reason why New Brunswick’s property tax assessments this year were an utter fiasco. After all, when you find human eyes simply blind to good sense, transparency and accountability, look no further than the bafflegab of techno-speak, courtesy of our various levels of government.

To be clear, pictometry means this: “It is the name of a patented aerial image capture process that produces imagery showing the fronts and sides of buildings and locations on the ground. Images are captured by low-flying airplanes, depicting up to 12 oblique perspectives (shot from a 40 degree angle) as well asan orthogonal (overhead) view of every location flown. These perspectives can then be stitched together to create composite aerial maps that seamlessly span many miles of terrain. Because they are taken from an angle, the pixels associated with pictometry images are trapezoidal, rather than rectangular. This necessitates special software and algorithms to accurately determine objects’ size and position on the maps.”

That’s from Wikipedia. And what I have to say about this is “Oh grand”. Send in the drones. It’s not as if we suffer enough intrusion of our private lives. Can one of these low-flying planes hover and land, pick up my grandkids’ toys, rake my leaves, paint my house before the snow flies? Yes, yes, can it also hang around and shovel my driveway?

Strangely, pictometry spectacularly failed the Gallant government this year. Said a report by the public broadcaster last week: “An internal Service New Brunswick document obtained by CBC News shows senior civil servants who were asked to explain what went wrong with a new property assessment system this year put Premier Brian Gallant at the ‘genesis of a decision to fast track the project. The document, obtained by a right to information request, was drafted in early April for a Service New Brunswick board of directors meeting and was released to CBC News late last month.”

Oh yes, this report goes on as you might expect: “The paper, titled ‘Fast track project Genesis moments’ claims the decision to abandon a multi-year implementation plan for a new property assessment system in favour of quick deployment was initiated on the afternoon of May 6, 2016, the same day Gallant was shown the new technology, known as pictometry.

“The term, fast track, was born following a pictometry presentation to the Premier during the Open House at the new created Digital Lab,” reads the briefing paper prepared for the board. “In the afternoon, the CEO of the time requested to accelerate this initiative.”

Again, “Gallant has denied any role in pushing for the accelerated adoption of the troubled new assessment system and on Tuesday his office questioned the accuracy of the newly released document, saying the premier and Gordon Gilman, the CEO of Service New Brunswick at the time, had no discussions with each other at all that day.”

Here’s what pictomtery means to me: surveillance, stupidity and incoherence. It also means incredibly bad English, diversion and a young premier’s hope that his vision weighs more heavily on the current generation than it does on history. Pictometry? Here’s the scoop: Pictometry technology was created and is owned by Pictometry International Corporation, which licenses the technology to companies across the globe. It is protected under US law, including Patent Ser. No. 60,425,275, filed Nov. 8, 2002.

Good to know. That still doesn’t explain why human eyes were blind to their evident failings, to their own hubris, to their own faith in words that make no sense.

Tagged

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?

Tagged
%d bloggers like this: