Friday, November 24, 2017

AG report finds NBU members warnings ignored in property tax issue

The New Brunswick Union (NBU) is pleased the provincial government has agreed to follow Auditor General (AGNB) Kim MacPherson's recommendation and scrap plans for an independent agency to oversee property tax assessments in New Brunswick.
The recommendation was contained in the AGNB's report released on Thursday which contained a special examination of the various issues leading up to thousands of New Brunswickers being issued incorrect property tax assessments.
"We support the recommendations of the Auditor General," said NBU President Susie Proulx-Daigle. "Our members have been worried about this change since Premier Gallant announced it in April.
"We're glad government has realized this is not the way to go."
Where it pertains to Gallant's announcement of an independent agency, the report found little evidence to suggest the move was well thought out before the announcement was made.
"One would expect the decision to be well supported with comprehensive analysis regarding the impacts, risks, costs, etc.," the report states.
"AGBN found no business case to support the government's intention to create this "independent agency." Although they were informed prior to the announcement, SNB board, CEO and the Executive Director of PAS (Property Assessment Services) were not consulted in the decision making process. There was very little analysis performed prior to the announcement by the Premier."
To make such a major decision with little to no input or study should be concerning to all New Brunswickers, Proulx-Daigle said.
Throughout her report, MacPherson referenced how the warnings of staff had either been ignored or not properly relayed when it came to efforts to 'Fast Track' new technology to aid in assessments.
In the key findings of the report it states:
• Alarming concerns about data quality ignored
• Assessment staff lost confidence in the integrity of property data collected with new methodology
• The circumstances around 'Fast Track' resulted in a toxic work environment within PAS
• The overwhelmed and distracted executive management resulted in a lack of leadership
Another passage on page 49 states, "Regional staff AGNB interviewed indicated property sketches captured in the system were often wrong and they were rejecting properties for re-sketching at a rate of 40-50 per cent. Staff believed data was corrupt and PAS implemented changes to the assessment process "on the fly" and on a "go forward" basis. While concerns were raised during the validation process, communications had broken down and staff felt helpless."
"The PAS management decision to tell assessors to abandon data review is, in AGNB's view, alarming. Implementing the new measurement and assessment process should be gradual, with thorough quality checks, refinements and assessor involvement at every stage."
Another passage from page 56 continues this theme, "While all staff interviewed said they were supportive of the Modernization Program, they believed 'Fast Track's' failure has been the result of moving too quickly, poor communication, inadequate tools and lack of collaboration among directors and with staff. AGNB found the circumstances described above have resulted in a toxic work environment within PAS."
Proulx-Daigle said this is an all too common occurrence.
"So often we see government and senior officials either not consult the professionals working on the front lines of various services or rely on expensive outside consultants to come in and try and figure out solutions to issues," she said.
"We've always maintained the most efficient, cost-effective and best way to find improvements or solutions to problems is to consult with the people who actually do the jobs. They have the experience and expertise, but too often they are ignored."