Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 30
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
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Residents Want More Revaluation Data

Dilshanie Perera

Emotions ran high at Monday night’s meeting focusing on the revaluation and tax assessments. Over 200 people gathered at Township Hall to discuss the data and seeming structural deficiencies related to the revaluation process, and to brainstorm further action (Letters to the Editor concerning the assessments can be found in this week’s Mailbox section).

Members of a citizens group that was formed to take a closer look at the new tax assessments spoke during the meeting, along with members of the public.

Kip Cherry reported that after running the data, she noticed a trend of the smaller lots in her neighborhood being valued at a higher number per acre than the larger lots, which were valued less per acre. She told the assembled audience there is still hope, and that property owners should check their cards for corrections that have to be made. “You can still appeal next year,” she said.

With approximately 5,000 properties in the Township, and roughly 2,000 in the Borough, Tax Assessor for both municipalities Neal Snyder said that while “there are anomalies out there, the pattern [yielded from the assessment methodology] fits for 90 percent of everybody.”

Resident Dale Mead, who is also part of the citizens group analyzing the data, said that they are still waiting for Appraisal Systems Inc. (ASI), the firm that performed the revaluation, to disclose more of their methodology so residents can figure out how they arrived at some of the numbers. He also called for more supporting data, saying that there is “something very worrisome” in the numbers as they currently stand.

The land assessments are where the largest discrepancy is, according to Mr. Mead and others. In his neighborhood near Oakland Street, he calculated that a lot just over a quarter acre was valued at $140,000 more than a house a few doors down on the same amount of land.

Tom Pyle noted that his home had increased in value by 19 percent, but that his land value had gone up by 350 percent from the last assessment. “I looked at properties comparable to me and I found significant differences,” he said, calling for an explanation of what drives the differentials.

One of the lead liaisons for the group is Jim Floyd, Sr., who pointed out that the large turnout at the meeting is evidence that “the revaluation concerns expressed through the John Witherspoon area, are also echoing through the Township and Borough.”

Many residents voiced their personal concerns during the meeting and asked the elected officials present for clarification and advice.

Township Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner noted that his own taxes had risen 25 percent. Describing the process as “truly frustrating for Township Committee,” he said that the municipality is mandated by the County to perform the revaluation and that there are no legal avenues to overturn the results. “It is incredibly heartbreaking,” he remarked. A letter from Mr. Goerner can be found in the Mailbox section.

Mr. Snyder said he is beholden to the Mercer County Division of Taxation, and that ASI is a State-approved contractor, calling it a “very reliable company.”

Having broken up the town into neighborhoods based on zoning and housing stock, a citizens revaluation committee was brought in to further assess the groupings. The land value extraction method of revaluing properties was based on zoning, and on a combination of site value and acre value, he said.

The overall analysis is a mass appraisal, where sales over a period of three years within a given delineated neighborhood form the basis of valuing properties within the area. “We try to find a common denominator, and the residual is land value. We have to break apart land and home improvements,” Mr. Snyder added.

One of the frustrations expressed by many residents was that though the methodology assesses land value and overall property value, citizens who file an appeal cannot use disproportionate land value data as a departure point for their complaint. They must appeal based on the entire assessment and are not allowed to challenge a separate piece.

Mr. Snyder did emphasize that, if need be, he would pay particular attention to the sales of homes in the period following that which Appraisal Systems acquired its data in order to adjust neighborhood revaluations. He can do this legally because of a state law identified as Chapter 101. “It is a great tool to use and monitor as sales come in,” he said, noting that he can make the adjustments on an annual basis.

After appeals are finished, likely in September, Mr. Snyder also noted that homes that the field assessors could not get into and thus, assessed at the highest value, could petition for another look to “make sure the record is correct.”

Mr. Floyd added that “we’re here tonight to help Neal and help us all find out about the neighborhoods that were hurt worst of all.” He advocated for greater transparency in explanations of the process of revaluation. “We just want to know how it was done,” he said, suggesting that this collective action by neighbors “may be the grassroots for changing the state laws.”

For now, the citizens group seeks to obtain the “snapshots” with data broken down by neighborhood that shows which properties and values were used to calculate the comparables and decide the land values in a given area, said resident Jim Firestone.

The next meeting regarding revaluation is tentatively scheduled for Monday, August 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the Township Municipal Complex. Confirmation of the date, time, and location is forthcoming. For more information, or to get involved in the data analysis, contact Mr. Floyd or Mr. Firestone at (609) 647-9802.

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