SAINT JOHN – The discussion about cutting the tax rate in Saint John could spread to other municipalities in New Brunswick as the tax base continues to grow, says the spokesman for the province’s property assessors.

Brent Staeben, director of marketing and communications with Service New Brunswick, says for the last three or four years New Brunswick municipalities have, on average, grown by about 6 per cent each year. The preliminary numbers for 2007 look even better, he said.

“There will be more of those conversations this year because assessments look better this year,” he said in an interview.

Coun. John Ferguson jump started a discussion about a possible tax rate cut in Saint John during the last council meeting. The councillor says he’s worried that a large increase in provincial assessments could result in rate shock for some property owners. Property owners’ tax bills are a calculation of the worth of their home, as assessed by the province, multiplied by the municipal tax rate.

City staff, meanwhile, say they’d love to lower taxes but warn that provincial assessments often lag behind increases in market value.

Staeben, while stressing that his numbers are both preliminary and based on averages, said that initial indications are that property assessments will be up.

Sussex is the only one of Saint John’s 34 cities or towns that lowered its tax rate between 2006 and 2007. The booming town dropped its tax rate slightly, by about a penny. Meanwhile, about 12 cities or towns raised their tax rates – Campbellton by more than five cents.

Staeben said that some jurisdictions in British Columbia have legislation that automatically drops the tax rate by the same percentage amount as the percentage rise in assessment for homeowners. “This way, if the council wants more revenue, it needs to publicly have a debate about what the rate should be and any rise in the final tax bill is very transparent to the taxpayer,” he said.

Staeben said it was obvious from comments made by Ferguson, city manager Terry Totten, and city treasurer Greg Yeomans that they want to manage the issue responsibly.

Ian Munro, director of research at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, was also impressed by the discussion to this point – both Ferguson’s call to watch the tax rate and Yeoman’s warning that it’s best to be conservative before the numbers are in. “It seems like people are understanding the issue correctly and trying to do the right thing,” he said.