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Petition: Update the Assessment Act

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to talk to an Executive Director at Service New Brunswick about the issues I’ve been facing with http://propertize.ca.

Unfortunately, there won’t be a complete release of the assessment or last sales information for this current tax year (or the upcoming tax year).

The reason? They are not allowed.

The current New Brunswick Assessment Act, the bulk of which is from an age before computers, is very specific on what they can and can’t do with the data.

The Act needs to be updated to reflect the digital and technological realities of today.

To help make this case, I’ve created a petition to the Minister responsible for Service New Brunswick, asking for the act to be updated.

Update the Assessment Act

Service New Brunswick is not allowed to provide bulk property assessment and last sale information in an open digital format due to antiquated legislation (refer to Section 12 within the current Assessment Act).

Without a complete listing of all assessment and last sale information, New Brunswick property taxpayers are not in a position to accurately determine if their property tax assessment is reasonable. They are also not in a position to make their case using actual data from comparable properties when appealing.

Property taxpayers have a right to a digital copy of this information.

The Assessment Act needs to be updated to reflect the digital and technological realities of today.  This petition seeks changes to allow the following actions to occur legally:

1) Allow releasing New Brunswick property assessment information in open format digital file(s).  This includes allowing the release of information for every tax year (current and historical).

2) Allow releasing New Brunswick property sales information in open format digital file(s).  This includes allowing the release of information for every year (current and historical).

3) Recognize and encourage all information within the Act to be released in open format digital file(s). The only exceptions should be around protecting personal information.

You can add your support to this initiative by signing the petition:

Let’s see if we can get commitments to update the Assessment Act in time for tax year 2015!

 
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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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Propertize.ca – SNB Network Block

ShawnAfter nearly five years, it looks like I’ve hit a major snag with http://propertize.ca.

Propertize.ca, in case you didn’t know, is a website that I created to make it easier to view and compare property tax assessments in New Brunswick.

A brief history of Propertize.ca

In 2008, my wife and I purchased our first home.  The following year, I received a property assessment tax letter, letting us know our assessment and amount due.  Also included were instructions around appealing the assessment. The issue was – I had no idea if I should appeal it or not.

Well, it turned out that SNB provides a basic application to look up assessments: https://www.planet.snb.ca/ANONDB/anon002$.startup

The site is functional if you have a PID or PAN; but, searching by address can be painful (to say the least).  It’s also very tedious to lookup and compare multiple properties at once – something I needed to do as many homes in my subdivision would be comparable (for assessment purposes).

I saw a better way – both to search by address and retrieve multiple results into a single view to make it easier to determine if your assessment was reasonable.

In 2009, a very rough version of this tool was live for friends and family to use (if you remember, it wasn’t very pretty to look at – but it worked).

In March 2011, it was featured on the front-page of the Telegraph-Journal and went viral.  Since then, people across the country have used it to compare assessments (for validation or appeal) and when looking to purchase property (to understand trends and tax levies).  Media in NB have used it to find oddities in assessments – especially when dealing with industrial sites, or strange changes.  Even staff at SNB use the site to quickly lookup information!

It’s been consistently updated to be easier to use, quicker at finding results, and responsive (works nicely on mobile/tablet).  I’ve also been tracking data in my own database so that historical comparisons can be made.  None of this can be done on the government website.  Did I mention, it also runs 24/7?  Try using the government site early in the morning.

It’s become something many people rely on to make informed decisions when purchasing property or deciding to appeal their assessments; but, this could all stop.

The Problem?

As much as I try to reduce needing to scrape data from SNB (outside of the new assessments initially being added each March – which is quite intense), it is still necessary.

Why? Because houses keep selling (new recent sales data is available) and sometimes assessments change (after appeal or other reasons).

To reduce network strain, I limit queries going at SNB to 30,000 per day, and I do it in the early morning starting at 6:30am and it usually finished up by 8:20am.

Unfortunately, it looks like everything changed on December 18, 2013.  As of that date, I could no longer access the planet SNB website from my house (even though it remains accessible for everyone else) – my IP is blocked.

I’ve been able to talk to individuals at SNB who have let me know that new networking software in now in place to detect heavy usage and stop it, which is why I am blocked.

They will try to unblock my IP (not unblocked yet); however, as I am still trying to scrape each day, it will be blocked again.

Internal discussions are taking place around this – specifically around the networking side of things; but, no decisions have been made.

The Solution?

The ideal solution would be to make the assessment data (for each year) public and accessible in an open format file that can be downloaded for offline use.

No more network issues.

Let’s face it – this information is all publicly available now (well, at least for you) – so what’s the harm?

I’m not holding my breath on this plan though.  I’ve been making this argument for years.

I believe the quick fix is to unblock my IP and specifically allow me to continue scraping as I have been doing for years now.  I have made big improvements to reduce network strain, and the site (to my knowledge) has never been impacted from my scraping.

How you can help!

While nothing has been decided yet, I am still currently blocked (and will almost certainly remain blocked – or be re-blocked – due to my scraping).

I think the best course of action at this point is to raise the issue as much as possible to ensure that I am unblocked and remain so!

Note: This site is not run for profit and is free for anyone to use.

The site is likely saving the government money.  Many people are able to easily use this site and find the information they need.  Those that can’t email me for help looking it up.

I end up providing free support services AND building/maintain a site that anyone can use (because it’s so easy to search).

Many people also see that their assessment is fair (compared to other comparable properties) and choose not to appeal – saving government time/money.

Please share this post on social media, write to your newspaper, email your MLA, call up SNB, whatever you can do help resolve this issue.

The clock is ticking – there are now less than two months before the new 2014 assessments come out, and at this point – they won’t be on http://propertize.ca.

Updates

 
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2013 NB Property Tax Assessments – Why The Levy’s Don’t Make Sense!

TaxBillMany people from across New Brunswick have been using Propertize.ca recently to compare their property tax assessments.

A common question that keeps coming up is around the levy (which is the amount that the property will pay in tax for 2013).

The answer is fairly complicated, so I will try to walk through a few reasons why it will vary on listings.

The 3% Cap is over

First, you have to understand that the last two years saw a cap of 3% on assessment increases (2011 and 2012).  That program is now over.

To avoid your assessment immediately increasing to account for the difference (over the cap) in 2013, the government decided you will never pay tax on that difference (so long as the property remains your primary residence and you do not sell it).  They call this the Assessment Gap (described by SNB below):

Assessment Gap (Permanent Assessment Exemption)

This new “Assessment Gap” serves as a permanent exemption from taxation and represents the difference between the 2012 market value and the 2012 capped value.

If you benefited from the 3% cap in 2011 and 2012 you will be able to keep this savings until your home is sold or ceases to be your principle residence.

Real Property Assessment

This is supposed to be the actual value of your property (what you would expect to list it for if selling) as of January 1st, 2013.

In an simple system, we would simply multiply this by your tax rate (add a few fees) and that would be your levy.

That isn’t the case, to avoid large increases (as the real property assessment for many people have jump by a huge margin), the government decided to create “spike protection” so that the assessed amount that you pay tax on can only increase 10% each year  (described by SNB below):

Assessment Spike Protection

This new mechanism protects homeowners from unexpected assessment spikes.

Any increase greater than 10% will be phased in over time, making assessment growth much more stable and predictable.

New construction and/or major improvements are excluded from this protection.

The challenge that many people are seeing, including my parents, is that the “spike protection” seems to have a lot of wiggle room.  Expect to hear more on this over the next few weeks.

So Why Does Levy Not Make Sense?

When comparing properties, you simply can’t tell what may be going on with their levy unless you see the actual tax bill:

  • Did they benefit from the 3% caps to earn a large Assessment Gap deduction?
  • Did they qualify for the Assessment Spike Protection?
  • Is the property not their primary residence?  They would pay an additional 1.8x tax in this case.
  • Is their municipal tax rate different?
  • What are they actually assessed at for tax purposes (Net Amount for Taxation) on the bill?

Basically, what I am trying to get at is comparing levys doesn’t make any sense as there are too many variables that influence it.

You best best is to determine nearby comparables, look at recent sales, and try to determine if your “Real Property Assessment” is inline with those. If not, you may have a case to appeal.

Where can you do this comparison easily?  Try http://propertize.ca!

 

 
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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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Propertize.ca – Updated with 2013 Property Tax Assessments

Last night, Service New Brunswick released the 2013 NB Property Tax Assessments!

In less then 24 hours, I was able to process the data – making it available on Propertize.ca.

Users will be happy to know that most properties in New Brunswick now have data available for 2011, 2012, and 2013 – making it even easier to compare your tax assessment.

Another enhancement was made prior to Christmas, which was the redesign of the website using Bootstrap, making  Propertize.ca both mobile and tablet friendly:

Propertize.ca

Propertize.ca

Propertize.ca

If you haven’t checked out Propertize.ca yet, what are you waiting for?

Don’t forget to share this site with your friends and family.

Send me your feedback!

As always – changes are driven by user feedback, suggestions, and even your angry rants – so be sure to tell me what you think!

Leave a comment below, or send me an email.

 
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Propertize.ca Helps Identify Tax Cut Winners

Propertize.ca helped provide property tax assessment data which made it easier to identify the largest tax cut winners in a CBC.ca article from today.

A collection of power plants, shopping malls, industrial sites and commercial properties are the big winners in a multi-million dollar property tax cut introduced by New Brunswick’s cash-strapped provincial government last week, a CBC News review shows.

No numbers were given over how the cuts will be distributed, but a CBC review of current tax assessments compiled by the website propertize.ca shows the 10 highest taxed properties will eventually save a combined $3.4 million a year.

NB Power’s Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station will be the single biggest winner with a property tax cut of $759,768, followed by:

  • NB Power’s coal-fired generating plant in Belledune ($411,306)
  • Champlain Mall in Dieppe ($397,579)
  • the new Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (PCS) mine in Penobsquis ($343,633)
  • Irving Oil Ltd.’s refinery in Saint John ($319,546)
  • NB Power’s oil-fired generator at Coleson Cove ($300,251)
  • Regent Mall in Fredericton ($242,360)
  • the old PCS potash mine also in Penobsquis ($238,332)
  • McCallister shopping mall in Saint John ($197,510)
  • Irving Paper’s east Saint John mill ($194,205).

via CBC.ca (written by Robert Jones)

 

 

  • Has Propertize.ca helped you?
  • Is Open Data important to you?

Let me know what you think!

 
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A stitch in time

Check out the latest issue of Progress Magazine for the following article by Lisa Hrabluk titled “A stitch in time” that includes references to my side project Propertize.ca.

Propertize.ca is a tool to easily view and compare property tax assessment information in New Brunswick.

A first step would be for governments to become early adopter clients of innovative products, most of which, like TotalPave, are either lower-cost alternatives or promise increased efficiencies that could lower operational costs. It’s something that Saint John’s Shawn Peterson, an IT consultant at T4G Ltd., advocates on his blog and through his actions. In 2008, while he and his wife were shopping for their first house, Peterson began playing around with the public data available on property assessments. Unhappy with the Government of New Brunswick’s system, he built a better one in his spare time, Propertize.ca. It allows a user to type in any address in the province and find out the assessed value of the properties around it.

“I like creating things that help people; my problem is finding ways to monetize them,” says Peterson, who figures he has made a few hundred dollars with Propertize.ca, all of which he directs into his daughter’s Registered Education Savings Plan. The site is so popular that staff at Service New Brunswick use it. But despite its popularity, it’s a struggle to get the attention of government officials. “Government needs to move from being a barrier to data to a bridge that connects the public and private sectors to the government,” says Peterson. “There are many opportunities for government by opening up access to non-personal data and it costs very little.” Most importantly, it encourages local innovation.

Click here to read the full article!

 
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