Blaming assessments

Here we go again. Think about this quote:

“It’s easy to pass the blame to municipalities, but it’s the assessment process that’s the problem, not the level of taxation,” David Hanson, president of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick, said in an interview Friday.

This is a ludicrous statement by this man – the President of the UMNB – if he has been quoted correctly. Excuse us, but municipalities spend the money – our money- not the assessment office. As we have repeated here ad nauseum, the assessment number does not cause the Town’s revenue to go either up or down. It is the choice of each municipality how much they will put in their budget, after that they should determine the rate. We repeat, higher assessments should not be considered a revenue stream. They are not and were never meant to be. The article from the Telegraph Journal continues with this stunner.

He said the province is trying to strong-arm municipalities into lowering their rates, regardless of the impact on local services. “They’re saying, ‘This is what your tax bill is going to be, whether you like it or not – it’s not our problem.'” Hanson, who is also mayor of Rexton, spoke in response to the government’s announcement this week that it would introduce a mandatory mechanism this session to control escalating tax rates. The announcement came in the wake of widespread tax bill increases, often tied to higher assessments. [emph ours]

Municipalities everywhere have felt entitled to leave their rates high instead of dropping them as they should when assessments go up, inflating their budgets accordingly, beyond essential rising costs. It seems the province of NB has caught on to this little trick and is telling the municipal units to shape up, to get their budgets under control and to be fairer to their tax paying residents.

The province also urged municipalities to review their budgets by the end of the month and apply a formula that lowers rates when the tax base grows. The government would then issue new, reduced bills to homeowners in those municipalities. The formula was implemented this year, but only five municipalities adopted it. [emph ours]

Why the province should have to force the issue is beyond us but there you are. Everyone seems to need a rule now to do the right thing. We have a feeling consultations with the province will let the municipalities off the hook. They shouldn’t. First of all the mayors and councillors need a stern lesson in how the property tax system should work. It is obvious they don’t truly understand it. Then they need to justify every expense; their budget increases should be held to the CPI unless they have good reason not to, this should be honestly conveyed to ratepayers, and their books should be monitored by a provincial auditor who looks at every municipal unit’s performance in turn. Nova Scotia and Mr. Dexter, take note. There is talk of a Municipal auditor. We need one desperately.

Related – follow up on the NB tax story.

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