Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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Meeting Tonight Will Determine Future of Fair Tax-Reval Case

Ellen Gilbert

A determination of community support for pursuing a case against the 2010 revaluation will take place at a public meeting on Wednesday, February 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Township Hall.

“The only worthwhile remedy to a mass appraisal gone wrong is to overthrow it through legal action,” said Princeton Fair Tax-Revaluation Group member Jim Firestone in a recent interview. “I believe that there are grounds for litigation and that we need to determine the extent of community support to justify that.”

The group, which was formerly known as the Princeton Property Fair Tax Committee, already has a law firm on board.

“We have spent a lot of time analyzing the work done by Mr. Firestone, Mr. [Dale] Meade, Ms. [Kip] Cherry, and others,” said attorney William R. Potter of Potter and Dickson, the firm retained by the Princeton Fair Tax-Revaluation Group. We’re persuaded that there’s very strong evidence of miscalculations and errors, so we believe that a lawsuit has merit to it.”

“It’s always a daunting thing to sue your municipality or government, because they have the resources of the taxpayer to support them,” added Mr. Potter. “The question is, does the public of Princeton support taking such action? We’re going to revisit the matter on Wednesday night and determine if it’s a go or not.”

Mr. Firestone reported that 13 out of the 15 people he recently approached have already donated money to support a legal case. Noting that “there certainly has been a surprising turnout of taxpayers who want to see some justice done,” Mr. Potter reported that he, too, was “reasonably optimistic that we will proceed.”

The outcome of such a case needn’t be a completely new revaluation, noted Mr. Firestone. “It’s not necessary to revisit houses; they just need to approximate an equitable revaluation.”

Using detailed statistical analyses and creating color-coded maps of every Princeton neighborhood, the Princeton Fair Tax-Revaluation Group argues that ASI’s 2010 revaluation was profoundly inequitable, resulting in a disproportionate shift in the tax burden to lower and middle-income property owners. With tax increases of 25 percent and considerably more in some areas, the group has expressed concern about “the dramatic challenges being posed both to individual pocketbooks and community diversity.”

“It wasn’t based on the medium-priced home in each neighborhood,” observed Mr. Firestone. “It was driven by the town-wide construction of new mega-mansions,” particularly in neighborhoods “where they did not belong. The assessor used the new lot value paid by the builder-speculator to drive up lot prices up and down the streets. As a result, the municipality got to collect more taxes, and county taxes went up.”

Mr. Firestone described the 2010 revaluation in “lower-moderate neighborhoods” as “a builders’ dream” that has driven “up the taxes on modest homes right next to the mega-mansions. This is true even along Lake Carnegie, on Edgerstoune Road, or even Brookstone next to Ettl Farm. Only it is not as harsh as in the more modest neighborhoods, like Dempsey-Oakland, Clearview-Franklin, South Harrison Street, etc.”

Adding insult to this perceived injury, say Princeton Fair Tax-Revaluation Group members, is the fact that elected officials “turned their heads” away from complaints about the revaluation process. Mr. Firestone pointed to former Township Mayor Bernie Miller as a singular exception in his willingness to engage in conversations about it.

Pointing to maps where clusters of brightly-colored circles signify homes that have been appraised at significantly higher rates than comparable homes in the same neighborhood, Mr. Firestone turned to medicine for an analogy. “If this assessment had been equitable this would be measles, not blotches.”

Those unable to attend the meeting are encouraged to visit the group’s website, www.princetonfairtaxreval.org/, where there is a link for sending comments.

In addition to the Wednesday evening meeting, there will be a meeting of the Joint Revaluation Study Commission on Thursday, February 10, at 7 p.m. in Borough Hall.

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