Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 31
 
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
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On Revaluation: An Open Letter to ASI From Township and Borough of Princeton

Township Mayor Bernie Miller
Chad Goerner
Liz Lempert
Lance Liverman
Sue Nemeth
Members of Princeton Township Committee
Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman
Jenny Crumiller
David Goldfarb
Andrew Koontz
Roger Martindell
Barbara Trelstad
Kevin Wilkes
Members of Princeton Borough Council

Shade Tree Commission Appreciates Informative Tour, Ice Cream Rewards

Polly Burlingham
Chair, Borough Shade Tree Commission

Princeton Township Police Commended for Work at Crossroads Intersection

Alfred Kahn
Rosedale Road

A Plea for Transparency: Pool Plans Must Be Clarified, Posted, Kept Posted

Jennifer Shaw
Pine Street

Sharing the Blame and Staying Informed: Revaluation Crisis Threatens Our Diversity

Jim Firestone
Vandeventer Avenue

Hinds Plaza Farmers’ Market Offers One of the Joys of the Garden State

Jan Kubik
State Road
Princeton, NJ

Understanding the Equity of the Revaluation Methodology: Many Questions, Few Answers

Toby Israel
Walnut Lane

More on Property Taxes and the Possibility of Filing a “Confiscatory Taxation” Lawsuit

Louis Slee
Spruce Street


On Revaluation: An Open Letter to ASI From Township and Borough of Princeton

To the Editor:

The impact of our recent revaluation has been a personal disaster for many. It also threatens to change the face of our town by ripping through neighborhoods of modestly priced homes and turning them unaffordable to longtime residents overnight.

ASI is not responsible for market forces, and we understand your job is to value properties based solely on current housing prices. But given the dramatic shifts in home values, many residents have asked for a thorough explanation of how you calculated the new property assessments. It is imperative that our community understands the methodology used.

Proprietary formulas, trade secrets and unexplained accounting have no place in this process. We pride ourselves in running an open, transparent government, and it is critical that ASI assists us in making the revaluation methodology open and transparent to the public. We applaud you for posting the old and new assessment data on your website, but there is a need for more information. We have a right to know exactly how neighborhood comps, combined with details about house size and condition were factored into an assessment. For example, what figures were used to calculate neighborhood site values? How were these numbers derived?

Although ASI representatives have attended previous community meetings, the methodology used has never been fully explained. Our residents have started organizing into neighborhood groups in an effort to try to deduce the methodology used to assess their homes. We expect you to help us help our residents understand how these figures were determined. The governing bodies of Princeton Township Committee, Princeton Borough Council and our citizens need a more detailed understanding of the revaluation methodology, calculations, formulae, and any other factor in the assignment of values to properties.

Please consider this letter to be our formal request for such information. We would appreciate your fulfillment of this request by August 15, 2010. To facilitate this request, we will be happy to meet with you at a time of mutual convenience to review the methodology and other revaluation factors.

Township Mayor Bernie Miller
Chad Goerner
Liz Lempert
Lance Liverman
Sue Nemeth
Members of Princeton Township Committee
Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman
Jenny Crumiller
David Goldfarb
Andrew Koontz
Roger Martindell
Barbara Trelstad
Kevin Wilkes
Members of Princeton Borough Council

Shade Tree Commission Appreciates Informative Tour, Ice Cream Rewards

To the Editor:

The Princeton Borough Shade Tree Commission thanks Jim Consolloy for conducting an informative and entertaining tour of Princeton Trees July 22. Thanks also to Thomas Sweet Ice Cream for providing coupons for ice cream to reward and treat those who came out on such a warm evening. What the coupons said is true: Ice cream tastes better under a shady tree.

Polly Burlingham
Chair, Borough Shade Tree Commission

Princeton Township Police Commended for Work at Crossroads Intersection

To the Editor:

The outstanding job performance by the Princeton Township Police Department in keeping the drinking and noise disturbances at the “Crossroads” intersection down to a tolerable minimum is much appreciated. A typical representative of Princeton Township’s “finest,” officer Michael Strobel is to be commended for his initiative in investigating after-midnight noise emanating from a local parking facility. Issuance of a “noise ordinance violation” has (thus far) brought this activity virtually to a halt. Keep up the good work.

Alfred Kahn
Rosedale Road

A Plea for Transparency: Pool Plans Must Be Clarified, Posted, Kept Posted

To the Editor:

I attended the July 19 meeting described in the July 21 Town Topics article “Township Debates Revaluation, Pool Plans.” At the meeting, it was repeatedly stated that the Recreation Department has been available to discuss the plans for the new pool.

However, at this point, I do not find the level of transparency in this process to be satisfactory.

At the meeting, it became clear that many regular pool-going taxpayers were not aware of the current plans for the redevelopment of the pool complex. In response, members of the Township committee asked the Recreation Department to post the pool plan online, at the pool, and at the library, and to post a drawing of the existing pool complex for comparison. They were asked to move as quickly as possible ahead of a crucial August vote on a pool bond.

A full week after the request was made, a plan with a lot of notes taped to it was propped on a chair near the entrance to the pool for a short time. It was taken down. It went back up. As of Monday night, the requested drawing of the existing pool complex hadn’t materialized. Nothing had gone up in the library or on the Internet.

Let’s stop talking about transparency and post the proposed plan at the pool in a clear and reasonable fashion. Keep the plan posted. Put the plan of the existing pool complex next to it. Post some additional drawings so those of us who aren’t architects can understand what the project would look like.

Post the documents in the library. Online, post the documents on the Recreation Department website, fix the link to the original renovation concepts, and don’t call the $6.1 million plan “final” when so many taxpayers have expressed their reservations.

Everyone wants to move forward. Put everything out in the open so we can do so. Please.

Jennifer Shaw
Pine Street

Sharing the Blame and Staying Informed: Revaluation Crisis Threatens Our Diversity

To the Editor:

By now many of us are outraged by our new property assessments. But perhaps we are not yet clear about how this came about and what we can do. Citizen involvement and useful criticism of the new reassessment began in the Witherspoon Jackson Neighborhood. After filing many appeals several neighbors began walking the blocks to find the many errors that still existed. Without their help, no pattern of consistent errors would have emerged.

At the community meeting last month, it was obvious to everyone that the flawed reassessment hit the whole town, not just Witherspoon Jackson. The method used extracting land values, was weighted too much on land value and not enough on improvements. It made assumptions about lot values, and comparable properties that were arrived at subjectively. As a result, small houses in and around town were hit with big tax increases. This is the biggest threat to our diversity and affordable housing that we have ever had.

Who was to blame? Was it the committee or council people, the assessor and the citizens committee that established land values, or the county tax administrator? The answer to this is that virtually no one saw it coming; no one saw that the switch to a system that maximized land values and minimized improvements could be so disastrous to so many citizens. The proof was found going house to house, and not by solely considering appraisal theory. The method sounded good, and was easy and cheaper than alternatives. But, it was not as consistent nor as refined as the traditional method, and now extraction is being used in many more communities all over the state. It needs to be refined.

If there is blame, it should be shared by all of us. We never paid proper attention in the past to the importance of how taxes are collected, focusing instead on how they are spent. It made me angry at the municipal meetings to see so much attention focused on the swimming pool issue and the plantings in the Harrison Street Park, while citizens were drowning in the new tax levy.

How can we get relief in this crisis so that people who have lived here for generations will not be pushed out of town? First, inform yourselves. Join in the Fair Tax movement whether you are over or under assessed. If you are under assessed, realize that it is not a windfall profit. Realize that people in the little houses in town are about to start paying your fair share. It’s not right. Please assume your obligation. Otherwise, your gardener, someone else’s old mother or parents, your maid, the cart pushers at the super market and others will be forced to leave.

Please join with us at our next meeting, August 9 at 7:30 at Princeton Township Hall. In the absence of an informed citizenry, there can be no real accountability.

Jim Firestone
Vandeventer Avenue

Hinds Plaza Farmers’ Market Offers One of the Joys of the Garden State

To the Editor:

Every Thursday this summer, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Princeton Farmers’ Market is held on Hines Plaza, adjacent to the Princeton Public Library. Anyone familiar with European street markets will welcome this addition to the our town. To my mind, the weekly market is one of the best things in Princeton. Visitors can enjoy fresh produce, cheeses, flowers, baked goods, etc., from area farms. Market day also provides an opportunity to see friends and neighbors, while taking advantage of one of the true joys of the Garden State: fresh produce.

Need I also mention that we are entering the peak of “real” tomato season?

Jan Kubik
State Road
Princeton, NJ

Understanding the Equity of the Revaluation Methodology: Many Questions, Few Answers

To the Editor:

Many questions remain regarding the equity of Princeton’s Oct. 1, 2009 valuation. So far there have been few answers that have helped us to understand the equity of the methodology. What we have learned so far is that the methodology is set by the NJ Real Property Assessor Manual formulated at the state level. We have also learned that the formula has two components, the largest of which is the value of land. Additionally, we have learned that the formula is very regressive, favoring large lots and penalizing small lots. Finally, we have also learned that the bulk of this value starts with a uniform “Site Value” that is set for each appraisal neighborhood.

For instance, where I live, in the Dempsey-Cuyler-Walnut Neighborhood, any buildable site is automatically valued to be at least $335,000. In our neighborhood, the Zoning is R-6 and the minimum lot size is .25. So the next part of the formula is to add the value of the first .25 acre, which is assessed on a per acre basis of $200,000/acre. So the calculation is to add .25 X $200,000 for a total of $385,000. The third component of the formula is the amount of acreage remaining above .25 acre. Anything above .25 acre is valued in the formula at only $100,000/acre.

This puts a small lot of, say, .25 acre in the difficult position of being valued only slightly less than a lot of twice the size — which hardly seems fair and equitable.

Several major neighborhoods in Princeton Township and Borough have joined forces to get answers and understand better how we can seek relief. As my neighbors keep pointing out, it’s not that we’re unwilling to pay taxes. Instead, we are a “We Party” — We the People, your neighbors, who want to be taxed equitably. What can you do? Please join us at our second public meeting to discuss next steps on Monday, August 9, 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Township Hall.

Toby Israel
Walnut Lane

More on Property Taxes and the Possibility of Filing a “Confiscatory Taxation” Lawsuit

To the Editor:

In his letter (Town Topics July 28), Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner says there are no legal avenues for overturning the results of the new tax increases. Some 30 years ago, when I asked the former Governor and Supreme Court Justice Dick Hughes how to stop the continued increase in property taxes, he replied that a suit would need to be brought against the state on the grounds of “confiscatory taxation” and that it would have to be upheld by the N.J. Supreme Court. Has the time arrived for such a suit? No doubt it has, but from a practical point of view it would take a strong organization of supporters and much money to hire a law firm willing to undertake the task. As it stands, the state has locked in control of taxation and, as your readers’ letters seem to indicate, primarily for the benefit of the state, not for the benefit of the people who pay the taxes. Although we need a government capable of functioning with a reasonable amount of tax revenue, the current system of taxation needs to be totally restructured, and a new system that eliminates unfair real estate taxes is the first step that should be taken.

Louis Slee
Spruce Street

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