January 9, 2019 2:01 pm
Updated: January 9, 2019 5:37 pm

‘Significant weakness’ found in HRM’s property tax system: report

WATCH: A report by Halifax’s auditor general has found a “significant weakness” in the city’s property tax system, one that could lead to fraud or error. Jeremy Keefe has the latest.

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A report by the Halifax Regional Municipality’s auditor general has found a “significant weakness” in the city’s property tax system, one that could lead to fraud or error.

In the report released on Wednesday, Auditor General Evangeline Colman-Sadd found many employees had system access privileges that would allow them to change property assessment values, even though they do not need such access for their jobs.

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“Sixty per cent of the users had access that they should not have to the system, so that includes former HRM employees, it includes staff that have moved around within HRM, so perhaps someone who had worked and needed that access a period of time ago but no longer do,” Colman-Sadd said. “It also includes temporary staff whose access may not have been removed once they were done.”

READ MORE: Halifax could see tax increase as staff report recommends 2.9 per cent bump to property tax

The broad access makes fraud or error a viable risk, according to Colman-Sadd.

“There’s a risk the changes can be made inadvertently that are not intended. You don’t want anyone to have access to your system that does not need that access for their daily job,” she said.

The report states that the city is aware of the risks to the system and knows it needs a new one that is better suited to the administration of property taxes. However, the audit found there is no updated plan to replace the system.

“A new system should be robust enough to address the current issues. In the meantime, management should address weaknesses with the existing system to the extent possible,” said the auditor general in a statement.

WATCH: Halifax’s auditor general discusses latest report 

Referencing the report, Halifax councillor Steve Adams’ primary concern is with former employees’ ability to access and change property assessment values.

“Some of the employees are HRM employees that have gone to other departments. I’m not overly concerned about that because there’s still accountability,” Adams said. “But there’s some former employees, and I don’t know what terms they left. If they left on good terms there wouldn’t be a problem with that either, but with temporary employees or summer work or students, that’s disconcerting.”

READ MORE: Halifax Transit buses receive scheduled maintenance thousands of kilometres after due date, report

Management agreed to implement all five recommendations from the audit. When asked when, Adams replied, “If not sooner, as my mom would say.”

— With files from Jeremy Keefe 

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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