New Jersey residents are taking their property tax bills to City Hall. In Essex County, property tax appeals doubled to 6,487 and in Ocean County appeals have tripled to 14,129. “I’ve been in the industry 35 years, and it’s a record,” claims Ocean County’s tax administrator.
According to The Star Ledger, it’s so worrisome, the NJ League of Municipalities will be taking it up at their meeting in Atlantic City this month in a session entitled, “Strategies for Defending the Tax Base Without Wiping Our Your Budget.”
In appeals the town must defend its property assessments with the burden of proof placed on the homeowner. When residents win their case, it means less revenue for the town. One thousand successful appeals in Montclair mean a $1 million hole the budget.
While tax rates have increased in many communities, reassessments also drive swings in property tax burdens. Trenton requires a reassessment every five years – though this isn’t always enforced. After 42 years, Newark underwent a property tax reassessment in 2003. In the 1970s, members of Newark’s City Council including former Mayor Sharpe James were arrested for refusing to institute a reevaluation. While reassessments are never popular, the longer municipalities go without a reassessment the bigger the sticker shock.
What’s driving the record number of appeals across the state is a combination of factors. Increasing rates, reassessments, and bad economy cutting into people’s ability to pay. In some cases, a reassessment is good news for the taxpayer. At the high end of the housing market, values have come down, leaving some with a lower bill. In Livingston, N.J. the average homeowner has seen a property bill reduction. But this didn’t make one Florida-bound resident happy, “Overcharged for the first 8 years I lived here.