Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 19
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
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Witherspoon Residents Gather for Closer Look At Revaluation Numbers

Dilshanie Perera

Residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood worried that their homes may have been assessed too high in the current revaluation have been meeting to analyze the numbers and determine whether appeals should be filed, with a recent meeting of concerned citizens taking place at the Mt. Pisgah AME Church last Thursday night.

With the revaluation process showing disproportionate numbers and anomalies within all neighborhoods in Princeton Borough and Township, a general numerical trend is that the tax burden seems to be shifted toward the lower priced homes from the high priced homes. The assessment affects the distribution of percentages of the total municipal, county, and school board taxes for which each property owner is responsible.

“It’s a quirk in the process at least, with the results having a higher impact on this neighborhood and others,” noted longtime Princeton resident Jim Floyd with regard to the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.

Princeton resident and real estate specialist Jim Firestone explained that the current trends can be explained by a few different factors.

The Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood was slightly under-assessed in the past, which makes the current numbers seem like a disproportionate jump in value. Simultaneously, when the assessment was being conducted, the real estate market and economy were experiencing unprecedented fluctuations.

Furthermore, “the reassessment was driven by increasing the land value, mainly,” Mr. Firestone said, a process which, for him, “should have been more transparent in showing what figures were used in setting those values.” Questions remain about how the land values for a number of different lots were designated.

Mr. Firestone highlighted average land values in different neighborhoods. On Birch Street, the average price for an average lot was priced at $217,000, while Wilkinson Way came to $228,000. Similarly, the average lot on Jefferson Road was valued at $467,000, whereas the average at Constitution Hill was $500,000. “And this is just land,” he noted.

“There are discrepancies all through this [assessment] that have to be ameliorated,” Mr. Firestone said.

Since Appraisal Systems uses a methodology that compares properties with similar properties that have sold within a three-year time frame in the same or similar neighborhoods, the sales of recently built homes could also change the comparable sales in a given neighborhood.

For instance, the sale of 16 Quarry Street for $930,000 in 2008 and 18 Quarry Street for the same price in 2009 were deemed comparable to some of the neighborhood homes, which suggests why the data might be problematic.

Mr. Firestone suggested that neighbors whose homes had been reassessed for over 2.25 times their previous assessment value file an appeal if they had concerns. Some properties had seen a jump in value by 6.2 times, and in the most extreme case: 7.1 times.

This is in part due to the fact that when an inspector cannot get into a home to look at interior fixtures, renovations, and conditions, he or she has to assume that the inside is fully refurbished, and the home is thus assessed as such. This is done so that no one can deliberately cheat the assessment by not showing their home, but the logic frequently backfires, driving the assessment value up unbeknownst to the homeowner, consequently increasing the assigned portion of the tax burden with it.

One positive result of the myriad questions surrounding revaluation is that the community is coming together. Mr. Floyd said, “I’ve been here since 1946, and this has been the best demonstration of neighborhood involvement I’ve seen in a long time.”

The appeal deadline is this Friday, May 14 for the original appeal document to be filed with the County Tax Board. Cost to appeal is dependent on current assessed value of homes ranging from $5 to $150. Most appeals will cost $25. Copies of the triplicate form are available at both Borough Hall and the Township municipal complex.

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