Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 14
 
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
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Revaluation Woes: Residents Seek Redress

Dilshanie Perera

Residents of the Borough and Township gathered in a fully packed Township Meeting Hall last week to voice their concerns about the recent property revaluation to representatives of Appraisal Systems, which had performed the assessments. Members of Borough Council and Township Committee were also there to hear the heartfelt, distressed, occasionally passionate monologues. CEO of Appraisal Systems Ernest Del Guercio, and Vice President Brett Trout, who was the project manager for the Princeton revaluation, were also on hand to explain the process and respond to questions. Information about how to appeal individual revaluations can be found at the end of this story.

The three-hour-long meeting began with Mr. Del Guercio emphasizing that the revaluation is revenue neutral, and that it is only undertaken to reestablish equity in municipalities where some property owners are paying proportionally more or less depending on the market value of their homes.

The criteria under which revaluations are made are governed by the State Constitution, and all homes must be assessed at their true market value.

Appraisal Systems’ assessments reflect the market value of homes in Princeton as of October 1, 2009. The company “looked at all comparable sales within a three year period” and inspected approximately 90 percent of properties in the two municipalities.

The remaining 10 percent of homes were assessed at the highest reasonable value in order to ensure that there is no unfair advantage in not having one’s home inspected by an assessor, Mr. Del Guercio noted.

While specific equations and methodologies were not disclosed, Mr. Del Guercio said, in response to resident questions, that in order to arrive at the values of properties, they “divide the municipality up into homogenous neighborhoods, and then calibrate” according to N.J. State cost conversion factors.

“If I can’t see that, then I can’t dispute you,” said Borough resident Michael Floyd to applause from the standing-room-only crowd.

Dan Preston of the Township urged Appraisal Systems to disclose the adjustment factors it used, and to explain how the price volatility of recent months compares to other periods of time. “In my particular neighborhood, only a handful of houses sold. If I want to appeal my assessment, I only have a few data points,” he added.

Mr. Trout noted that approximately nine percent of houses in the Borough and Township sold during the three-year timeframe, which was “adequate to calculate” the current numbers.

Thirty-eight-year Township resident Dale Meade highlighted an overriding concern, which is the trend that “the lower cost homes are having larger tax increases than higher cost homes” after the revaluation. “Clearly it is a shift from the more expensive to the less expensive,” he added, regarding the resulting tax burden.

Mr. Meade requested the land value data from the Appraisal Systems representatives, which have not yet been disclosed. In looking at previous assessment data, he found a correlation between the cost and land area, whereas with this year’s numbers “the points are all over the place.”

Noting that during the appeals process, the courts only accept an appeal of the entire assessment, not a component part, like land value, Mr. Del Guercio also drew a distinction between market value, which is the “true value, and is a representative number of what a collection of properties sell for” and market price, “which is what you sell to another individual.”

Assessment calculations are also not based solely on square footage or acreage, but “on zoning within a particular neighborhood,” Mr. Del Guercio added. “There are so many factors that go into it.”

“In most of our neighborhoods, our houses are not comparable,” one resident noted, with Mr. Del Guercio acknowledging that the location of homes, as well as their condition, are all factored into the calculations. “Location even within a neighborhood is extremely important.”

Two other residents pointed out that private assessments conducted by Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, respectively, had yielded market values that were much less than what Appraisal Systems valued their homes at. “I had my home appraised in the same month, and you all said it was worth $91,500 more.”

Ken Griebell of the Borough lamented that property taxes over the past five years have doubled, and that under the revaluation, “homes in our neighborhood went up by 22 percent.”

Borough resident Donald Cox noted his disappointment with the proceedings, stating that he was hoping for “an overview of the methodology, and an explanation of how your company applies these standards to our neighborhoods.”

Thanking the Borough and Township for convening the meeting, Township resident Heidi Fictenbaum explained that “if my taxes go way up, I’m not going to have a choice but to leave Princeton, which is very upsetting.”

“Everyone will receive due process,” said Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi at the conclusion of the evening. “There is a large emotional component when you have a revaluation, and everybody is sensitive to the shift,” he said, adding that the municipality will endeavor to “keep the taxes down over a period of time.”

———

If residents feel that their revaluations are disproportionate or unfair, they must file an appeal with the Mercer County Board of Taxation by the extended deadline of May 14. According to Mr. Del Guercio, “comparability is key” to a successful appeal. Residents wishing to contest their revaluation number will have to locate three similar properties “with the same type of structure, in the same economic range of value, and in a similar condition and style” that have been assessed at lower rates. Data for Princeton Borough and Township can be found at www.asinj.com/revaluation.asp?p=current.

Further information on the appeals process is located at www.state.nj.us/counties/mercer/commissions/tax/appeal.html.

Property owners may also call Appraisal Systems at (973) 285-9940 with questions or to schedule a consultation prior to May 1. Visit www.asinj.com for more information.

Princeton Tax Assessor Neal Snyder can be reached at (609) 924-1084 or (609) 497-7623.

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