Some N.B. municipalities angered by extra property tax pamphlet, union says

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N.B. municipalities upset over property tax letter
The union of municipalities in New Brunswick says some members feel the provincial government has tried to shift blame for large property tax increases. Premier Blaine Higgs says the province is just trying to distribute information ahead of fiscal reform talks. Silas Brown explains – Mar 21, 2024

The Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick says some municipalities were irked by an extra notice sent out from the province with property tax bills.

When New Brunswickers opened up their property tax bills at the beginning of the month, they were greeted by a pamphlet headlined with “Did you know?” reminding residential home owners that the province collects no property tax from owner-occupied homes. The pamphlet says any questions about tax rates should be directed at one’s local government.

“Our membership was upset by that,” said Andrew Black, the president of the UMNB and mayor of Tantramar.

Black says you can’t ignore that residential property taxes are a mix of responsibility: the province, who assesses the value, and municipalities, who set tax rates. He says costs for municipalities have continued to rise as they deal with inflation and with new responsibilities from the provincial government.

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“It didn’t need to be in there, it really didn’t, and it seemed to be passing the buck to municipalities to deal with any issues that people in New Brunswick had with their increase in property tax assessment,” he said. “It just made it seem like it was all the municipalities’ issues.”

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Almost 10,000 people applied to have their assessments reviewed, as nearly half of households saw over 10 per cent increases in assessments.

Premier Blaine Higgs said the notes weren’t an attempt to shirk responsibility, but rather education on how the property tax system works.

“It has to be clear how this system works and how the revenue is generated,” he told reporters on Thursday.

This year municipalities and the province are expected to work towards fiscal reforms, which may change how taxes are levied and municipalities are funded. The goal is to have the changes in place by the beginning of 2025.

Higgs said the notes will help get the facts on the table and changes may mean finding new sources of revenue for municipal entities.

“Municipalities have increased costs, the way that we do, I mean our costs in government have gone up dramatically,” he said.

“So I know they’re faced with the same thing, but let’s all look at where the opportunities can or cannot be and where are the sources of revenue. I just think this is the year to really finally put this thing to rest and have a path forward that the municipalities can thrive on.”

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But Liberal finance critic Rene Legacy worries actions like the pamphlets may harm that crucial working relationship.

“I called my council and they were not aware this was coming and they got caught short and it’s just not very conducive to building relationships with these organizations,” he said.

While Green critic Kevin Arseneau says it’s the latest example in a pattern of disrespect.

“Disingenuous and disrespectful I think to all the work that municipal officials put in,” he said.

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