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Vol. LXIV, No. 38
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
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2010 Revaluation Declared “A Done Deal”; Township Considers Options for the Future

Ellen Gilbert

“As for 2010, it’s a done deal,” said Mercer County Tax Administrator Martin Guhl at a Township Committee work session on revaluation issues held on Monday.

“The appeal deadline is over and tax rates have been struck,” continued Mr. Guhl. “There is no way you’re going to throw out a revaluation at this point. It is what it is. Only those properties that are under appeal have any possibility of being adjusted.”

Looking ahead, Mr. Guhl recommended that area residents owning properties or living in neighborhoods that appear to have been wrongly evaluated put together as much information as possible for later reconsideration.

While tax assessors once had the ability to make changes on their own initiative, he noted, a 2001 state law now mandates that a plan be filed before changes can be implemented. As a result, Mr. Guhl explained, an assessor has three options for 2011: to do nothing; to file for reassessment; or to file a compliance plan. The latter two require a review of the entire municipality; if it is determined that more than 50 percent of the properties need changes, the assessor has to file for reassessment. If less than 50 percent are in line, filing a compliance plan would follow.

Township Mayor Bernie Miller described Monday night’s session as an opportunity for Township Committee to discuss the reported inequities in the recent revaluation process “in as transparent a way as we can.”

“In order for Township Committee to take any action,” Mr. Miller observed, “it’s necessary that we have an opportunity to discuss it in public.” 

As a starting point, Township staff prepared and circulated a five-page draft of questions and answers about revaluation. Subsequent suggestions made by Township Committee members at the meeting will be incorporated into an updated version for use at future meetings. Committeewoman Sue Nemeth, for example, asked that any “jargon” be replaced with clearer explanations, and Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner requested an introductory overview indicating the overall average increase on the 7,000 properties that were looked at.

Copies of the Q&A (Question and Answer) document will be available in the Clerk’s office at the Township municipal building. Township Committee members weighed the pros and cons of pursuing a compliance plan, which could be repeated annually, rather than facing the extreme consequences of a 10-year interval between revaluations. Ms. Nemeth expressed concern, however, that this process might further hurt the very individuals who appear to have been hardest hit by the recent revaluation. Mr. Goernor responded by observing that while “we want to moderate the impact, we can’t control who that actually affects.” Mr. Guhl noted that there are currently no municipalities in Mercer County doing annual reassessments.

It was also noted that downward shifts in revaluations would not necessarily translate into lower taxes, since the regional school budget would still need to be met and ratables would be lower as a result.

“The ideal situation would be to have an annual review based on market trends,” said Township and Borough Tax Assessor Neal Snyder. “The market is the key. Most assessors don’t do this, though, because they don’t have the staff. I couldn’t do it myself, and hiring staff would be costly for the Township,” he observed, while acknowledging that “there certainly is a need to review the 2011 numbers.”

Township Committee ultimately agreed to re-send Township residents’ property revaluation cards, encouraging them to review the information and meet with Mr. Snyder if they still have questions. It was also suggested that a task force be created to examine the issues, and that the Borough, which may file for compliance separately, be encouraged to do the same.

Relief for those hardest hit by tax increases due to this year’s revaluation may be available through the Homestead Rebate Plan, “Senior Freeze,” and “senior assistance” applications, according to Township Attorney Ed Schmierer. It was agreed that the State should be encouraged to fully fund the first two options, and noted that forms for them are available in Chief Financial Officer Kathy Monzo’s office.

Another potential source of funding is a non-profit that could not yet be identified, which would elicit donations, “put together about $300,000, and make very low interest loans to struggling households.” It was noted that the “relatively low” income levels required to be eligible for help from the Township’s Affordable Housing program would probably not be applicable for most residents.

Speakers from the audience after the Township Committee discussion was over included Borough Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller, who wondered about the efficacy of assessments every four years, and Township resident Jim Floyd, who described the Q&A as “impressive,” while noting that the Citizens Fair Tax Committee “has almost completed its own data collection.” Suggesting that the committee’s findings “may have some impact on Township Committee’s decisions about future action,” he requested a meeting with Mr. Miller. Mr. Floyd also pointed out that while the Citizens Fair Tax Committee had acknowledged that “there was something inherently wrong in the way the revaluation was done” and had been “working for four or five months,” elected officials didn’t begin to address revaluation issues “until Election Day neared.”

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