Auditor general takes over review of property assessment system

New Brunswick's auditor general is taking over a review of the province's property assessment system.

Monday's announcement comes just two months after former justice Joseph Robertson agreed to undertake the review.

In a letter to the province, Robertson said he decided to halt his review after finding out that Auditor General Kim MacPherson intended to audit revenues derived from property tax assessments.

"Had I known of the audit and its ambit, I would not have undertaken the review," he said.

Robertson said MacPherson suggested to him that his review was not "independent" and that her office was best suited to undertake it

He said continuing his review "could lead to conflicting findings and recommendation" between himself and MacPherson.

Attorney General Serge Rousselle said Monday that the province encouraged Robertson to continue his review, but respect his decision not to.

Rousselle said MacPherson's review will involve the same scope and mandate as the one started by the former justice.

The decision to review the system came after a whistleblower alleged in March that more than 2,000 property owners were given improper and inflated tax bills.

"Since 2011, there have been thousands of errors and we are committed to getting to the bottom of it to ensure the public gets a clear explanation of what happened," Rousselle said in a news release.

"It is clear there is a need to review what went wrong, while ensuring lessons are learned to restore public confidence in the property assessment process."

Rousselle said any work completed by Robertson will be handed over to MacPherson, who will have until Nov. 30 to complete her review.

Most affected property owners see their bills drop

In a separate news release Monday, Service New Brunswick said most New Brunswick property owners who had an "arbitrary formula" applied to their tax bills have seen their bills drop.

SNB said of the 1,858 bills – or more than 90 per cent – reissued as of June 1, about 93 per cent decreased, one per cent increased, and the rest stayed the same.

The remaining property owners will receive a new bill in July, and all affected owners will have 90 days from the bills being re-issued to process payment.

SNB also says that it has received 16,416 requests for review of property tax assessment, and has processed 23 per cent of them.

Because of the high number of requests, the province says it will be later this year or early next year before all are processed.

Property owners wishing to appeal the request for review decision will have 21 days from the date of the decision being issued.