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Vol. LXV, No. 45
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

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Attorneys Differ on Revaluation Lawsuit Filed by Fair Tax Revaluation Group

Anne Levin

A lawsuit filed by a citizen group last week challenging the 2010 Princeton property revaluation has problematic issues of procedure and timing, according to Princeton Borough’s lawyer Maeve Cannon.

“I haven’t had a chance to read it thoroughly, but at first blush, it definitely appears to be out of time because revaluation has already been implemented,” Ms. Cannon said.

But Princeton lawyer Bruce Afran, who with William Potter filed the suit for the Princeton Fair Tax Revaluation Group, said that normal rules do not apply since the suit is challenging the entire municipal assessment rather than the assessment on any one house.

“In addition, the assessor and the county board and municipalities gave no actual notice to taxpayers about the methods they were using,” Afran said. “So there was no opportunity to appeal before the revaluation was done.”

The lawsuit was filed in Mercer County Superior Court on November 2. It names as defendants the Borough, Township, local tax assessor, county board of taxation, and Appraisal Systems, the company that did the revaluation. Among the plaintiffs are the estate of late activist attorney Eleanor Lewis, several residents of the Borough and the Township, and the Princeton Fair Tax Revaluation Group, which is led by Borough resident Jim Firestone and Township residents Dale Meade and Jim Floyd.

The suit argues that the revaluation of 2010 was not properly conducted, and that it discriminated against elderly, lower income, and minority residents. The 30-page complaint challenges the revaluation process and says the public should have been involved in certain steps, but were not. While many residents of expensive homes have seen their taxes lowered as a result of the revaluation, those in more modest homes have had their taxes increase.

The group contends there was a bias in favor of wealthy property owners that resulted in higher tax on those of lesser means. The suit says the revaluation violated the Federal Fair Housing Act, and calls for the revaluation to be declared void. Property taxes from before 2010 should be reinstated, the suit argues, and a different company should handle the revaluation.

After residents questioned the process at public forums, a revaluation study commission examined how it was conducted, and concluded it was done properly. The fair tax group does not agree.

“We’re in for a long process,” said Mr. Afran. “We’re hopeful that the two towns will recognize the problems. Although they have made some corrections, they are still burdening average taxpayers. Minority residents and seniors are drowning under their tax bills. We hope this process will prompt discussion.”

Ms. Cannon said that Harry Haushalter, the tax lawyer for Princeton, will be consulted on the lawsuit and will make a determination on how to defend it.

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