Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 15
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
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Revaluation Commission Calls for More Local Control Over Process

Ellen Gilbert

Highlights of Monday evening’s Township Committee Meeting included a work session on the Joint Revaluation Study Commission’s recently completed report on the 2010 revaluation; news that proposed Route 1 changes forbidding left turns at Harrison Street and Washington Road have been postponed; and a proclamation naming April “Alcohol Awareness Month.”

While the report found some of the results of the revaluation “unfortunate” in leading to higher tax burdens on low and middle-income residents and, particularly, senior citizens living on fixed incomes, the commission believed that in spite of these inconsistencies, the revaluation should not be redone.

Looking ahead, Co-Chair Peter Marks encouraged greater local participation in future efforts. He suggested that revaluations could be conducted by local officials who are familiar with neighborhoods. “There is no need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to employ someone from outside the community to do a revaluation which is certain to be controversial,” he observed. A “much more local, much more participatory system” would “take the mystery and the expense” out of the process, and result in better informed citizens who shared more consistent values.”

Commission members present for the meeting included Township resident Michael Walker, Mr. Marks (Borough), and Co-Chair Michael Reilly (Township), along with Township Committee liaisons Lance Liverman and Liz Lempert. Commission member Stephanie Lewis (Borough) was not present, nor were the two Borough Council liaisons, Jenny Crumiller and Roger Martindell.

The assessed values closely approximate fair market values, said Mr. Reilly, in his summary of the report, which was delivered to Borough Council last week. He noted that while some people are laboring under the illusion that revaluation is a precise process, there are, in fact, many elements involved that can lead to different impressions.

The Commission suggested that the significant number of reassessments that have occurred since the revaluation are a positive sign. Rather than indicating that the original numbers were way off, they said, these reassigned values showed evidence of Assessor Neal Snyder’s willingness to revisit the process.

The fact that the Princetons’ last revaluation occurred in 1996 figured significantly in the report as well as in the comments that followed. During the 14-year interval, speakers noted, there were dramatic shifts in neighborhoods that were not accounted for in the 2010 revaluation.

It was agreed that the Township would reach out to the Borough to examine, and, when appropriate, implement the Commission’s recommendations. It was also suggested that the creation of a standing citizens’ group, similar to the Township’s Citizens’ Finance Advisory Committee, might be helpful in keeping future assessments as transparent as possible.

In his introduction to the work session Mr. Liverman noted that “The people that we selected to be on the revaluation commission — who were themselves affected by the revaluation — were some of the smartest, most responsible, and intelligent groups of citizens I’ve seen in a long time.”

In their comments at the end of the meeting, Princeton Fair Tax-Revaluation Group members Dale Mead and Jim Firestone expressed their continued displeasure with the revaluation, the compliance process, and the Commission’s report.

Route 1 Reprieve

“I think our comments were heard,” said Mayor Chad Goerner in his announcement that the New Jersey Department of Transportation has postponed the “jug handle test” that would forbid left turns onto Route 1 from both Washington Road and Harrison Street. More “representative results” will be achieved with the new fall date, he observed, when the University isn’t holding reunion celebrations and work is not being done on Alexander Road.

The Township’s Alcohol Awareness Month proclamation was made in support of the Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition of Mercer County.

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