AJAs 2017 Finalists


Slug/Label Property Tax Scandal
Date Aired or Published Stories included here aired March 10, March 31 and November 23
Media outlet where first aired or published: CBC NB
Name of Program: CBC NB Radio News and Shift
If co-produced, list partner:
Location: Saint John / Fredericton
List awards, grants:
Running time (TV/Radio): Item 1: 1:35; Item 2: 8:36; Item 3: 9:12

Short explanation of the story and how it developed:

The New Brunswick government issued property tax bills province wide on March 1st and almost immediately CBC reporter Robert Jones began documenting trouble. Tax bills were jumping well beyond New Brunswick's 10% legal limit on hundreds of unrenovated homes - increases normally only allowed on newly built or renovated properties. Government ministers and spokespeople blamed undefined computer errors for the problems for weeks but on March 31, after several reports documenting trouble, Jones, who had made contact with two inside whistle blowers, revealed the true cause. A new assessment system rushed into service in New Brunswick in 2016 had wrongly identified large property value increases on 2,000 homes spread over several communities and government assessment managers had no time to investigate if the readings were accurate. Instead they created fake renovation amounts on the houses to justify the false readings. That in turn, allowed tax bills on the properties to jump more than 10% causing hundreds of homeowners to be overcharged. That reporting triggered several major events. In the wake of the publicity a record 18,000 property owners appealed their tax bills which are still being processed and have resulted in over $6 million in refunds so far. As well New Brunswick's Auditor General launched an investigation, confirming details of the CBC reporting, assigning blame in some cases and recommending sweeping changes in how property taxes are handled and the public is treated. Government has agreed to all of the recommended changes and transferred key employees involved.

Resources of the newsroom (money and time) available to complete the story:

CBC New Brunswick produced over five dozen stories connected to the property tax scandal, beginning in March and continuing through December. The included material is a small sample of the work undertaken on the story. The affair is still unfolding with hundreds of property owners not yet having their tax appeals ruled on and CBC News continues to cover it in detail. Stories in 2017 appeared on radio, television and online. Robert Jones was assigned to it exclusively for much of the year and produced and reported almost all items CBC News carried. The biggest challenge was identifying affected properties and owners. CBC News paid to subscribe to New Brunswick's property assessment data base and developed a way to track when the province reversed tax increases on individual owners. Most people profiled and interviewed in items were found using this technique.

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