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IT specialist keeps working to keep the taxman honest

Friday’s Telegraph-Journal featured an update on the issues that I have been facing with http://propertize.ca.

While the daily update issue has been resolved, the challenge now is with the delays and the impacts this will have coming up.

In March, when the 2013 assessments are available, it will now take nearly a week to scrape all of the results – which means you will have much less time to determine if you should appeal or not.

As I’ve mentioned before, the real solution is to release the data in an open format (assessments and last sales) allowing myself – and anyone else – to build applications on top of it.

IT specialist keeps working to keep the taxman honest

Story by: Shawn Berry

The operator of Propertize.ca says he’s working around new restrictions on the New Brunswick government website that limit his ability to update property assessment data.

Shawn Peterson of Saint John says he’s slowed down the computer search that used to take him less than two hours a day so that it now takes about six hours.

“They asked me to add ‘delays” to the scraping code so that it reduces the number of accesses per minute. I did make these changes, and they are working; but, it’s much slower now,” he said.

Peterson runs Propertize.ca, a site that allows users to see the assessed values of homes in a particular area all one page. He created his website to address Service New Brunswick’s shortcomings. Its website requires users to call up each property in a separate search if they want to compare property tax assessments, sale prices and the like. The site was a popular vehicle for homeowners and businesses until he was jammed in mid-December by SNB’s new protocols.

Peterson’s go around and the reduced pace of searches means his computer won’t trip a meter on the government server that locked him out before Christmas for performing more than 100 queries a minute.

That limit is part of a bid to prevent malicious computer users from compromising the government computer system or denying access to other users.

Peterson says he can live with the reduced rate of search rate for updates for now but is still wondering how he will access updated tax assessment information when it is all updated in spring for the 2014 tax season.

“This isn’t ideal, and in my opinion, is not acceptable,” he said, noting property owners have just 30 days to request a review of their property assessment. Peterson believes the more data available to the public, the better they can be served by government tax assessors. He generally gets up every morning to work on the site and keep it updated.

Contacted last week, Craig Chouinard, a spokesman for Service New Brunswick, said the issue is being looked at.

Peterson said he has heard from a staff member who told him there are ongoing discussions on the matter.

 
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Broad-brush against hackers hurts popular site

Today’s Telegraph-Journal featured a story on the issues that I have been facing with http://propertize.ca.

I think it does a great job at explaining the issue and provides the best solution to address it – open format file(s) that are available for anyone to download and use.

Link to the original article: https://www.telegraphjournal.com/greater-saint-john/story/35771638

Broad-brush against hackers hurts popular site

Story by: Shawn Berry

Propertize.ca

A Saint John man says he’s been thrown a digital hurdle that threatens to sideline the service he runs to help property owners compare their tax assessments with those of their neighbours.

Shawn Peterson runs Propertize.ca, nearly in its fifth year. He created the website in frustration over Service New Brunswick’s own website, which requires users who want to compare the assessed values of homes in their area to call up every parcel individually.

The Propertize site allows users to see multiple properties displayed all at once. It became wildly popular in 2011 following some favourable media coverage.

To keep the information up to date, Peterson’s does a search for property values every March and performs a daily search between 6:30 and 8:20 in the morning looking for updated information due to sales and appeals of property assessments. But on Dec. 18, his search of the publicly available data on the government’s own website was blocked.

“At first I thought it was just a weird anomaly, but after it kept up I got in touch with people at Service New Brunswick.”

The issue, he’s been told, is a recent change on the government site that limits the number of queries from a computer’s IP address to 100 per minute. Peterson makes about 30 a second for two hours every morning.

Service New Brunswick says the technology is meant to stop hackers and others misusing the Internet and ensure public access to the site.

“The security software isn’t new, but the parameters as to how much data use triggers an alert have changed,” said Service New Brunswick spokesman Craig Chouinard.

While he wouldn’t identify Peterson for privacy reasons, Chouinard said the government agency is aware of the issue.

“Service New Brunswick is working with the user to ensure they can continue to run property inquiries and make use of that the information to populate their website.”

Chouinard said the security software in place meant to protect its server from spamming, denial-of-service attacks and other mass inquiries or hits that could potentially affect or deny access for all users.

Peterson says Service New Brunswick should find some other way to make the data available to everyone.

“What we’re running into now shouldn’t be an issue. I shouldn’t need to do that to get public information, I should be able to just go download it.”

They could create an open file with last-sale data or an accessible open spreadsheet with recent years’ assessments for people like him to download once, instead of performing numerous searches.

“If that was in place there wouldn’t be any need to be scraping the site.”

Peterson said while staff restored access for his IP address, the same technology blocked his computer again.

To the best of his knowledge, his daily activities never caused a problem for the SNB site.

“I try to do it first thing in the morning,” he said. “I’m not hammering the site 24/7, causing a problem or taking down the site.

“I’ve never heard of anything, and I believe if I was, I would have been contacted.”

Peterson reckons he loses money on the site, but thinks it’s an invaluable service to both citizens and government because it allows property owners to determine whether or not they should appeal their property assessments.

Chouinard said the government believes in making information on New Brunswick properties available to all New Brunswickers. He noted that the Service New Brunswick’s website does provide provides the information and access to all residents.

“At the same time, we are always working to provide better safeguards of the information technology infrastructure to ensure that access will not be affected by potential attacks by outside sources,” he said.

Updates

 
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Thanks to everyone at NB Power!

Published on 2014-01-01 by in News, Uncategorized, Videos

From all of your friends at T4G Limited, thank you!

Also, a big thanks to everyone helping from Saint John Energy and outside the province.

 
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‘No downside’ to open data policy

Digital key in pixeled keyhole, 3d renderThere was a great article discussing Greg Norton‘s “Open Data” motion to Saint John Common Council in today’s Telegraph Journal!

The article below was written by Ryan Melanson:

City Council is set to revisit the idea of establishing an open data policy for municipal information at Monday night’s meeting, with Coun. Greg Norton pushing a motion that will define clear guidelines on what city data should be released, when it should be done and by what standards.

Open data, as Norton’s motions describes it, refers to the free publishing of city information, in accessible and machine-readable formats, without any restrictions on use.

This means anything from geographic data like transit routes and stops, financial information dealing with the spending of public money, where steps have recently been taken around posting salaries and funding details to external agencies, or more specific, obscure data like a percentage of people who don’t pay their water bill on time, or police traffic enforcement statistics. The possibilities are endless, and may even depend on what people want to see or use, Norton said.

The city already does a fair job in terms of having information available, Norton said, but it’s not always easy to retrieve, buried in archives or requiring other steps.

“This will mean we’re not layering all our information in red tape for the folks who want to use it to create solutions to societal or governmental issues.”

While increased transparency is key, Norton said the problem-solving and innovation possibilities are a kicker that gets him excited.

Shawn Peterson, an award winning developer and ICT worker at T4G in Saint John, said having raw data in the right open formats creates opportunities for the private sector to come up with solutions in a way governments simply don’t have the time or resources for.

Peterson’s Propertize.ca mines data from the provincial government to help users compare their property tax assessments with others nearby. He took government data, analyzed it and developed it into a useful application with money-making potential.

Those are the possibilities with open data, new solutions and job creation, he said.

“You see governments throwing money at this and that, that’s the worst thing you can do. How about you start putting data out there, and then someone can create a business based off that, how cool would that be?”

Norton pointed to HotSpot Parking Inc., led by Fredericton business student Phillip Curley, who created a mobile parking payment system with information from the city’s traffic department. The company is expected to test in Saint John soon.

“He created an app and a company using that data he mined from the municipality,” Norton said.

He added these possibilities could be increased further if the province’s three major cities could work to create open-data pools under the same consistent standards. Similar steps have been taken between municipalities in Ontario.

“Because that increases the usability of the information we’re going to disclose to the public and to the people who want to access and mine it.”

With increased co-operation between Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton a new priority, a new budget looming, and a bustling tech sector ready to jump at sets of raw data and their possible uses, the time is right to draft a true policy, Norton said.

“There’s no downside to this,” Peterson added, noting so much data is already in existence, just simply not available, or only available in a hard-to-find PDF files, useless to developers.

“The worst case scenario is the city releases some data sets and nobody uses it.”

Norton said if his motion passes, a priority for him will be ensuring any data policy is implemented correctly, with sets released consistently and in a timely manner.

“I’ll be pushing for strict implementation guidelines, so that once this information is available, it’s not antiquated by the time we post it,” he said, referencing large amounts of dated information on department sections of the city’s website.

“If we do it right we could release data sets that other cities aren’t, and do it in a way that’s useful and improves openness and transparency.

Councillor Norton’s motion is below:

Open Data Policy: October 28, 2013

Mayor Mel Norton and Members of Common Council

Your Worship and Councillors:

Subject: Open Data Policy

 

Background:

The City of Saint John has demonstrated a commitment to transparent and inclusive government. The benefits of establishing an open data policy framing this commitment can lead to improved coordination and information sharing between City of Saint John agencies, while the development of such a policy can also fuel economic development in the civic-tech sector and with a healthy ICT sector in our community the time is ripe. It is also widely understood that beyond just improving transparency a clear open data policy improves governance itself.

Open Data is a philosophy and practice to provide some of the municipally-generated data to the public in a machine-readable format, without the restrictions of copyright, patent or other control mechanisms and, most importantly, free of charge. The most commonly used open data focuses on structured data, such as geographic data, scheduling, statistics, and demographic data. It is important to highlight that the City of Saint John is a leader in accessible, open and transparent information by way of many departments. For example, the GIS department, is a leader in geographic data that is mined by many agencies external to the City of Saint John, the Common Clerk is also instrumental in maintaining and archiving all official records, contracts and deeds. Many of our departments provided open data in their respective commitment to transparent and inclusive government.

The objective of open data is to eliminate burdens to access data created or managed by government agencies, while respecting privacy and sensitivity concerns.  It enables entrepreneurs, academics, community groups, other learning communities, developers, and interested citizens to use data to improve the social experience and stimulate economic growth through data applications. Open data has been fueling economic development as reported by a recent study, which found that half a million jobs have been created around mobile and web apps. Lastly, the overarching aim of this motion is to set in policy what many divisions of the City of Saint John are currently practicing on a continual and timely basis.

Motion:

(1.) Engage all City of Saint John departments, agencies, boards and commissions, including the Saint John Police, Power Commission of the City of Saint John and Saint John Water for input in the drafting of a City of Saint John Open Data Policy.

(2.) Request the City Manager to draft an open data policy that reflects the input received during the engagement process to be considered for adoption by Saint John Common Council and subsequently all departments, agencies boards and commissions.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Greg Norton

Councillor (Ward 1)

City of Saint John

 
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True Growth Is Community-Driven Plan

Today’s Telegraph-Journal posted my Letter to the Editor:

True Growth Is Community-Driven Plan

The editorial “Will True Growth define the problem” (Sept. 3) stated True Growth 2.0 “put the cart before the horse” in terms of defining the problems it’s trying to solve.

I was disappointed to see The Telegraph-Journal suggest there lacks a common understanding of the problems this region must overcome, considering the extensive process True Growth 2.0 undertook to reach consensus on the issues and solutions.

In 2012, the True Growth Steering Committee spent four months meeting with dozens of individuals and organizations to understand regional economic development challenges. From these conversations, we identified six priority sectors and five goal areas for further development. The True Growth 2.0 recommendations were adopted by all five municipalities and shared publicly. In early 2013, 11 working groups were formed to develop recommendations for these priority sectors and goal areas. These groups were tasked with articulating problems and developing sector-specific recommendations.

The 36 True Growth 2.0 projects were born from these recommendations and are being led by our economic development organizations and seconded resources from the private sector. The projects differ in size and scope, from industry accelerators to the West-East pipeline, but share common goals of leveraging regional strengths to grow the economy.

The projects are being driven by teams who understand the problems and want to implement solutions. It’s a community-driven plan being led by our community’s economic development agency with the support of a broad network. I believe this new approach and spirit of collaboration will be what moves our region forward.

SHAWN PETERSON

True Growth 2.0 Steering Committee

This letter was in response to the following Telegraph-Journal editorial that ran last week:

Will True Growth define the problem?

The residents of Greater Saint John are engaging in a little creative destruction of their own. Under the loose leadership of Enterprise Saint John, teams of community volunteers are striving to set 36 job creation projects in motion.

These initiatives range from “hackathons,” designed to bring the city’s computer programs together, to a proposal to renew the park benches in King Square through corporate sponsorship.

It all sounds like fun, and it’s great to see people showing so much enthusiasm for the goal of improving Greater Saint John. We have to ask, though, whether the True Growth 2.0 movement hasn’t put the cart before the horse.

Building consensus on how to proceed requires a common understanding of the problem that people are trying to overcome. Without clearly defined goals and a reason to consider those goals important, people aren’t as likely to support the changes needed to achieve progress.

There may well be 36 problems to overcome in this community, but if there are, the nature of those problems has not been clearly articulated to the public, nor has the need for the particular solutions that True Growth teams are striving to implement.

We would prefer to see the local governments, businesspeople and community organizations of Greater Saint John reach agreement on the problems that have hindered growth in the region, then move out into the public, spreading awareness of these problems and why change is needed.

Once that work has been accomplished, there will be a broader base of support for debating possible policy solutions; without it, we fear most taxpayers and voters will not understand what all the fuss is about.

What do you think?

You can learn more about True Growth 2.0 (and get involved) over at Enterprise Saint John: http://www.enterprisesj.com/true_growth

 
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Nominations Open for Leaders Summit

21incMy first experience with 21inc came through the Emerging Leaders Summit in 2010 where fifty of Atlantic Canada’s most promising leaders under age 35 gathered in St. Andrews, NB.

The leaders were chosen from a pool of 407 nominations and engaged in curriculum focused on providing them with the leadership skills and knowledge needed for the 21st Century.

It was a fantastic program where I met some amazing people – people who I have kept in touch with ever since.

21inc is now accepting nominations for the latest Emerging Leaders Summit, and there was a great article covering it in today’s Telegraph-Journal.

Be sure to take a look, and send in your nominations!

 

FUSION Saint John

The following article was written by FUSION Saint John’s Claire Ryan:

A regional “action tank” that works to develop, support and encourage leadership across Atlantic Canada is looking for exceptional leaders between the ages of 20 and 35.

21inc. has opened nominations for the second edition of the Emerging Leaders Summit, an intensive three-day leadership experience, designed to encourage and support young Atlantic Canadians who have been identified as leaders or who have demonstrated considerable leadership potential in their field or workplace. The selected participants will take part in sessions led by some of the region’s most highly respected educators, practitioners and mentors, while networking and collaborating with peers from across the region.

“With the present economic situation and the challenges the Atlantic provinces have to overcome, it’s pertinent to assure collaboration among the next generation of leaders and offer them the tools necessary to take the lead and face the challenges,” says 21inc.’s executive director Nadine Duguay.

21inc. is reaching out to its network of alumni and supporters for nominations, with the target of receiving 500. Nominees will be asked to submit an application package, from which 50 participants will be selected by a panel of regional judges. Applicants will be evaluated on criteria including: demonstrated leadership, achievement and a commitment to serving or enhancing the community.

“Participating in the Emerging Leader’s Summit was a challenging and refreshing experience that helped me grow as a leader and transition into a meaningful career path,” says Angélique Wojcik Simpson, who participated in the 2010 Emerging Summit and is manager of international recruitment at the University of New Brunswick as well as the president and project manager at Interlingual Translation. “I met a wide variety of inspiring colleagues across Atlantic Canada who have, in the time since, encouraged me to strive for excellence and work toward the best for our province and our region.”

The Emerging Leaders Summit will take place in St. Andrew’s October 20-23, and is held in conjunction with the Ideas Festival, 21inc.’s bi-annual forum that brings young leaders together with the region’s established business leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, educators and policy makers. The Ideas Festival will be held October 23-25, with the theme of “The Internalization of Atlantic Canada.”

“In many ways 21inc. sets participants on fire and leaves them with a strong network of movers and shakers to help them get things done,” says Wojcik Simpson of her own experience as one of the seven people from Greater Saint John who participated in the 2010 Summit,

The nomination period for the Emerging Leaders Summit will be open until Friday, June 7. More information on the nomination and selection process is available on 21inc.’s website: 21inc.ca.

Claire Ryan is on the FUSION Saint John board. Reach her atcryan@mtlpr.ca

 
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Saint John Whiz Crowned Champion

Published on 2013-05-16 by in News, T4G, TourOff

Today’s Telegraph-Journal featured myself and the idea that I pitched at T4G’s Geekfest event, check it out!

Geekfest 2013

One of New Brunswick’s tech stars is still the Ultimate Geek.

Shawn Peterson received the honour for the second year in a row on Tuesday night at Toronto’s GeekFest – an innovation competition that pitted him against 11 other finalists.

GeekFest is run by T4G, a Toronto-based IT consultancy with offices in Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton.

The 28-year-old IT consultant from Saint John walked away with $10,000, winning for his work on the app Touroff – a mobile platform for downloadable walking tours of cities.

Still in development, Peterson said the idea for his app came to him in 2012 when he toured the province as part of 21Leaders New Brunswick, a program for emerging entrepreneurs in the province.

“We were going to these different communities and having people show us around,” said Peterson. “It just struck me how great of an experience that was, and it got me thinking: why can’t I get that same experience wherever I go?”

Peterson said the content of the tours will be supplied by third parties, and will be a mix of user-created free tours and paid tours run by professional operators.

“It’s like how you would go purchase an app on your phone,” said Peterson. “You can find free apps; you can find premium apps. This should be a similar concept.”

He said he hopes to get a working prototype of the app ready within the next few months.

Touroff is currently available solely on its website, where only a handful of local tours are available.

Peterson said a major advantage the app will have over the website is that tours can be available offline.

“If you’re travelling somewhere where roaming fees might be an issue, you can download the tours in advance,” said Peterson.

“You’ll also be able to utilize the GPS on the mobile device,” he added. “It’ll be really good at knowing where you are and where the next point in the tour is and providing directions to guide you to that point.”

Peterson said he hopes to produce a “nice and polished” app by the end of 2013, when tours will also be made available in more than 40 different languages.

Peterson added that he hopes to eventually make the app available on all three major mobile platforms – Android, BlackBerry and iOS – but the prototype will only be for one. He hasn’t decided which one yet, but he said it will be a toss-up between Android and iOS.

Touroff’s victory was Peterson’s second Geekfest win after clinching the Ultimate Geek title last yearwith Q-Time, an app that estimated waiting times for hospital emergency rooms.

The top three – chosen by judges from the 12 finalists – present their ideas to an invite-only crowd of about 300, who then vote for the winner.

The runner-ups were Michael Heyd with Pic N Pay, a self-service shopping app, and James Craig with PromoDealz, a digital retail app. All of the top three will have their ideas further explored by T4G with potential for future development.

via telegraphjournal.com (written by Ethan Lou)

 
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Saint John Ward 3 By-Election Results

Below are the unofficial results of the Saint John Ward 3 By-Election:

Candidate

Votes

Brian Boyd

69

Barbara Ellemberg

74

Michelle Hooton

816

Mark LeBlanc

225

Allen Leslie

24

Gerry Lowe

1,028

Anne-Marie Mullin

273

Graeme Stewart-Robertson

264

Voter turnout was 2,782 out of 11,663 voters (23.85%).

Congratulations Gerry!

 
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LNG property assessment

Propertize.ca was referenced in a recent story on CBC NB about the LNG Tax Deal:

Saint John’s Canaport LNG facility once again ranks as the province’s priciest real estate, but a controversial eight-year-old property tax deal it cut with the city has kept its bill low.

You can view the video below:

You can see the assessments here:

A story later appeared online to go with the above video that included my Dad’s story:

Saint John’s Canaport LNG facility — New Brunswick’s most expensive piece of property — continues to grow in value, but its taxes are holding steady because of an eight-year-old property tax deal it cut with the city.

The liquid natural gas terminal is New Brunswick’s most valuable piece of assessed property at just under $300 million.

The facility’s value grew $4.3 million this year, on top of a $4.4-million increase last year.

A 25-year property tax deal struck by former Saint John mayor Norm McFarlane for the LNG development froze its bill at $500,000 a year.

The property tax deal caused protests in the city for weeks.

Eight years later the gap between LNG and other facilities continues to grow.

By comparison, the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station now pays $5.8 million in property tax — 12 times more than the LNG terminal — even though its assessment is $66 million lower.

“I’m assuming they’re sending someone down each and every year to determine what the value is and it seems to be going up a few million dollars each and every year,” says Shawn Peterson, who runs the propertize.ca, a website that provides searchable tax assessment information.

Peterson said provincial assessors do keep track of the LNG plant, although, in the end, it’s salt in the wound for a city forbidden from cashing in on its growing property value.

Last month, former Liberal premier Frank McKenna said the LNG plant may yet trigger an economic rebirth for Saint John, well beyond the modest annual contribution it makes to the city’s tax haul.

Homeowners facing hikes

Meanwhile, New Brunswick has lifted a three-per-cent property tax freeze that’s been in place for the last two years.

That has been causing some tax bill jumps, including in Saint John where some residents and other property owners are facing huge increases.

Isaac Miller is a frequent user of the city’s four-year-old skateboard park.

“It’s really great to have a public park that has no costs,” said Miller.

Provincial assessors slapped the park with a $1,051 tax bill — 150 times more than the $7 it was charged the last two years.

Last year, Walter Peterson did energy efficiency renovations on his 30-year-old eastside bungalow, including new windows and vinyl siding.

Peterson was expecting a bump in his tax bill.

The province added $148,000 to his assessment.

“I almost fell off the chair because it went up 122 per cent,” said Peterson

His house, valued at $121,000 each of the last two years, is now assessed at just under $270,000 with a $4,300 property tax bill to match.

The renovations were encouraged by the province and partially paid for by Efficiency NB.

“Well if I get $269,000, it’s sold. Anyone who wants to come with a cheque, it’s gone,” he said.

Peterson has already filed an appeal, one of thousands the province deals with annually.

Related information:

 
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Eroded land among property taxed in 2013 assessment

Propertize.ca was referenced in a new CBC.ca article about the 2013 NB Property Tax Assessments:

The New Brunswick government begins mailing out over 500,000 property tax bills next week and although most go to homes and businesses, it doesn’t stop there.

New Brunswick’s 2013 Property Tax Assessments includes playgrounds, cell phone towers, public clocks, eroding shorelines and even open stretches of water.

The hills over Saint John’s Bay Shore Beach have been eroding into the Bay of Fundy for decades with several properties worn down to nubs. Saint John’s Duck Cove Community Association owns three pieces of property that mostly eroded into the Bay of Fundy years ago.

Still, the province assessed what’s left to be worth $100 and taxed each for $3.21.

“These building were over there and there was land on the other side of the buildings again, but it has eroded. It eroded away to the point that that land is pretty much gone, but I guess they can tax you for space in the sky,” Danny Dineen, the former president of the association.

In 2012 a new public clock the Irving family donated on Saint John’s King Street made news by getting its own $30 tax bill.

Even a floating dock in the Saint John harbour was billed. This year it was for $68.

Shawn Peterson runs the property tax assessment website propertize.ca and said there isn’t a tree standing in the province that hasn’t been assessed for the upcoming tax mail out.

“I mean you name it. If you’ve ever driven by it on the road it’s got an assessment.”

Peterson said every property in New Brunswick has been valued at some amount.

The province and its municipalities evaluate and tax hundreds of thousands of properties every year worth over $40 billion.

Click here for details on the Duck Cove Lane assessments referenced in the above article!

Related information:

 
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