Comedian Woody Allen said, “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and total hopelessness; the other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
As anyone who has ever observed a political campaign understands that choosing correctly is more easily said than done. Candidates ramp up their campaign rhetoric with many promises that are soon forgotten once the election is over.
Let’s look at one promise that’s gaining traction in this campaign.
The Progressive Conservatives will cap growth in property assessments for all residents at three per cent annually for two years while working together with all partners to make a new system that is fairer and more effective for the long-term.
In addition, they will permanently freeze property assessments for all resident homeowners aged 65 and older for as long as they own and live in their home.
The Liberals will freeze all assessments on unaltered property for two years to allow for a comprehensive public engagement process with the goal of establishing a new, more equitable property assessment regime.
OK, but do we truly need a new, more equitable property-assessment regime? And should property assessments be capped or frozen?
The answer is no on both counts.
Service New Brunswick performs the assessment function on behalf of the province and its various local governments.
Each year, the assessment team – consisting of 110 skilled, highly educated and dedicated professionals – places assessments on more than 450,000 properties. All real property is assessed at its real and true value, or market value, as of Jan. 1 of the taxation year.
The Service New Brunswick team calculates the total value of all properties in each municipal entity and provides this information for the determination of the local tax rate.
Last year, the value of all real property liable to taxation totalled in excess of $35 billion. The province issues the tax bills and undertakes collection of property taxes.
In his Report on the Future of Local Governance in New Brunswick (November 2008), Jean-Guy Finn reveals that one of the strengths of the property tax system is the uniform market-based assessment practice applied province-wide by Service New Brunswick.
It’s sound, eliminates a patchwork approach to assessments and avoids a potentially costly and heavy administrative burden on individual municipal entities.
Mr. Finn further concludes that assessment values shouldn’t be capped or frozen.
He references a study commissioned by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) on taxation in the Halifax Regional Municipality, wherein the author states, “While this practice is often politically palatable in the short run, it is simply bad policy and bad practice. It leads to inequities and distortions during the period of the cap or freeze and it often has suicidal political consequences when the cap or freeze is removed” (Kitchen 2008, p. 8).
As a career real-estate valuation specialist, I can say with certainty there’s no problem with the assessment process in New Brunswick and must be retained.
We have a tax problem made worse by a series of provincial government decisions cutting unconditional grants and downloading many responsibilities to local governments but giving them limited means with which to fulfill those obligations.
Presently, municipal operating budgets are financed through property taxes, unconditional grants and non-tax revenue.
New Brunswick legislators must change, without delay, the way local governments are governed and financed. A new tax structure must be developed, one that more equitably distributes all tax revenue to the governing authorities, and one that ultimately results in lower property taxes for all.
Les Smith is a former president of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. He lives in New Maryland.