Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 40
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
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Revaluation Measures Include PILOT, Study Commission, Shared Services

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council unanimously passed three resolutions at last week’s meeting dealing with revaluation. Council member Roger Martindell had proposed versions of the resolutions in a previous session.

The action may lead to the municipality beginning new payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) negotiations with Princeton University and perhaps other institutions; determining whether additional shared services with the Township or other municipalities are feasible; and appointing a revaluation study commission.

Mr. Martindell explained that since the Borough’s PILOT agreement with the University expires on December 31, 2011, it is “not too early to negotiate the extension and renewal of its contribution.”

“If we don’t start negotiations now, frankly, we might be too late,” he cautioned.

Councilman David Goldfarb added his support to the proposal, advocating for an open, public process.

Resident Peter Marks countered by noting “I’m not sure I understand what obligation the University has to renegotiate. They are tax exempt.” He called for any contributions to be set aside specifically for tax relief, while Mr. Martindell called for the goal to be “much more open-ended.”

Proposing that the Borough collaborate with the Township and School Board in approaching the University for funds, Township resident Kip Cherry suggested a “formula that goes forward several years and that will adjust over time” in calculating the PILOT.

As for the move toward more shared services, Mr. Martindell acknowledged that the consolidation and shared services study commission is currently in operation, and “we might be here in 3, 4, 5 years, having the same discussion.” He advocated for more shared services with the surrounding municipalities and counties.

Both Councilman Kevin Wilkes and Ms. Cherry emphasized the need for a shared police dispatch service. “[It] is really important that the Township and Borough have a single dispatcher. The current system leaves us open to criticism from taxpayers, and you would actually have better service,” Ms. Cherry remarked.

Borough Attorney Maeve Cannon explained that “Council’s role and their jurisdiction is quite limited,” and that they can’t reject the revaluation results outright, but that “any town always has the right to voluntarily conduct a revaluation.” She cautioned those present that the investment of time and money would be significant in such a case.

“The assessment company has to operate under very specific contractual requirements and follow very specific rules,” Ms. Cannon explained. The company is obliged to provide information to taxpayers who request information. Remedies include filing a tax appeal that is subject to the approval of the municipal assessor or the county board of taxation.

The other remedies include: assessment maintenance in certain neighborhoods that yield a percentage change of less than 49 percent; a reassessment that would involve revisiting over 50 percent of homes; and a full revaluation.

Ms. Cannon suggested having a third-party expert look at a sampling of the revaluation numbers around town, as well as exploring options for low-interest loans to the most impacted. A public-private partnership could be worked out such that the loans would be administered by the Borough but managed by a non-profit entity, she noted.

Provisionally, the revaluation study commission would have not more than seven members, including one member of Council, with the Borough Administrator to function in an ex officio capacity. A timeline for analysis has been set for December 1 to March 31.

Resident Dale Meade suggested an audit of the Borough’s contract with Appraisal Systems Incorporated (ASI) as the first order of business. “It’s our contention that ASI did not follow this contract.”

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