FREDERICTON (GNB) – Auditor General Kim MacPherson today released her special examination on residential property assessment. The review was conducted at the government’s request following widespread complaints over spikes in the 2017 assessments.

The report shows that after a demonstration of new property assessment technology to Premier Brian Gallant, exchanges between the premier’s chief of staff and Service New Brunswick’s (SNB) CEO of the time started the chain of events leading to Fast Track. However, MacPherson could not determine the premier requested Fast Track.

Fast Track was a project to accelerate the implementation of new technologies, such as aerial photography, within SNB’s Property Assessment Services.

Exhibits found in the report show how SNB internal communications implied the premier requested Fast Track. However, during interviews conducted by MacPherson, Service New Brunswick’s executive management and the CEO all said they did not speak directly with the premier.

SNB executives, along with its board of directors, failed to acknowledge Fast Track’s high-risk nature and made critical decisions to initiate it based on vague, misleading and missing information. Distracted and overwhelmed senior management resulted in a lack of leadership. The circumstances around Fast Track resulted in a toxic work environment within Property Assessment Services.

While the overall vision of the modernization strategy was well-intended and long overdue, the implementation of new software during Fast Track involved reducing a three-year implementation timeline down to one. Property Assessment Services over-wrote existing data with untested prototype software, largely abandoned quality assurance practices and failed to follow standard project management and systems development practices.

“Even though the use of aerial photography is in-line with current industry practice, Property Assessment Services’ failure to adequately validate the data was the primary root cause of the 2017 technical issues around property assessment,” said MacPherson.

MacPherson estimates these failures could reduce property tax amounts in the range of $7 million to $14 million. She also expressed her view that “creating another independent agency, as previously announced by government, is not necessary to resolve the most pressing issues relating to property assessment.”

MacPherson made 25 recommendations to address the findings identified, the most significant of which is a recommendation to separate future annual property assessment notices from tax bills.

The Residential Property Assessment – Special Examination chapter can be found in Volume III of the 2017 Auditor General Report. Volume V was also released today and it contains chapters on School Districts Purchase Cards and Follow-up on Recommendations from Prior Years’. Volume IV presents matters arising from the annual financial audit of the province and Crown agencies. These volumes and one-page summaries for select chapters are available online.