New Jersey Lawmakers: Property-Tax Assessments A Job For The County, Not Towns

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 27 January 2015 08:27

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson  has been vying to save taxpayers money by eliminating the outdated notion of home rule for municipalities. Initially, the idea of home rule held high support because it allowed municipalities to retain powers that would protect residents and ensure their welfare. Unfortunately Levinson argues it’s doing the exact opposite when it comes to property taxes.

Within New Jersey there exists a massive imbalance of property tax being paid. Certain municipalities are paying far less due to underestimations, while others are paying far more to cover the slack. This imbalance has left many homeowners disgruntled, and many businesses receiving outrageous credits from overpayments. So what’s causing the assessment issues? Well it apparently is the municipalities who are to blame.

Since municipalities opted for home rule, they were supposed to ensure that property assessments were carried out every few years. These assessments would be done by trained professionals to evaluate the value of businesses and homes and ensure the appropriate amount of property tax was being paid. Any adjustments in value would be accounted for and counties would end up paying exactly what they owe – not a penny more, not a penny less. Unfortunately that’s not what is being done.

Instead of assessments being carried out every few years for up to date information, municipalities are slacking due to the fact that carrying out these assessments is a very expensive and labor intensive task. This leads to the assessments not being completed in a timely fashion and, since the real estate market fluctuates so dramatically especially over just a few years, the end result is a huge discrepancy between what should have been paid in taxes, and what actually was paid in taxes.

These discrepancies in amounts would normally not be an issue, except for the fact that extensive amounts of resources and funds must then be spent to rectify the amounts. If a property is undervalued, it leads to entire municipalities paying far less, and leaving the rest of the county with high amounts of taxes being paid to pick up the slack. On the other hand, homes that are overvalued prove incredibly problematic as well. Should a property owner file an appeal on the appraised value of their home, this results in government funds needing to be allocated to deal with the appeal, and potentially refund a significant amount of money back paid in taxes.

One recent example of a significant overvalued property was a casino in Atlantic City. The property values of casinos have been on a steady plummet downwards since 2006, and the lack of proper assessments has led to incredible amounts of overpaid property taxes.

Borgata, the casino that brings in the most revenue within Atlantic City, received a refund settlement of $48 million because assessments had not been adequately carried out from ‘07-’12. This massive amount only adds to the growing sum to be paid back to overvalued properties. Fortunately, Levinson believes that archiving the ‘home rule’ policy the municipalities have adopted and setting up county wide assessors would be the perfect solution.

Mazzeo, the recently elected Mayor of Atlantic County Municipality, agrees that something desperately needs to be done. His plan to help resolve the problems with Atlantic County Municipality goes hand in hand with Levinson.

First, Mazzeo states that it would be best if the county had assessments carried out regularly, as opposed to the municipalities. This would shift the incredible burden of property assessments onto a larger governing body that is more equipped to handle the challenge. Once regular assessments are held, municipalities such as Atlantic County won’t be faced with extensive tax appeals such as the ones they’re getting now from the casinos. The appeals themselves take up a significant amount of taxpayer dollars simply to address them, let alone refund them should the decision be made in the casino’s favor.

Additionally, Mazzeo also plans to make it easier for towns and counties to deal with New Jersey tax assessment appeals by changing their deadlines. Instead of the deadline for appeals being in April, it will be moved back to the first of January each year. These three extra months would make it far easier for budgets to be created, appeals to be handled, and expenditures to be assessed ensuring that larger refunds such as the one paid to the Borgata Casino were able to be adequately handled.

Fortunately, Levinson and Mazzeo are basing their plans not on speculation, but on previous results seen in the Gloucester County. Back in 2009, Gloucester County pushed for the power of property assessments to be carried out by the county, rather than the municipalities. This ensured that all of the twenty-four municipalities within Gloucester County maintained up to date property assessments which saved over four million since 2010 alone! These savings don’t include the potential cost of appeals that would have bogged up officials and added to the expenditures of each of the municipalities. Additionally, all of the various townships and municipalities were able to pull their fair share rather than certain parts having to pay far more than others.

Robert Damminger, Freeholder Director, stated that the Deptford Township in Gloucester County was facing an extensive revaluation that would cost the county $1.2 million alone! This amount would have to be shouldered by the residents and, should that fail, the rest of the municipalities in the county. Fortunately, when a county wide assessor was put in place, Deptford no longer was burdened with the $1.2 million and their officials were able to look into other matters to help improve the lives of the residents there.

Damminger stated that with the advancements in technology combined with the way in which the program works, costs are alleviated and fair property assessment values are obtained every three years making it far easier for both the county and all of the municipalities within it.

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