“I think that you are going to put a lot of people out of their houses.” This statement from one concerned homeowner sets-up the context for this report.
Over a hundred people gathered in the multi-purpose room at Uptown School Complex. The town hall meeting was facilitated by Mayor Scott Evans, Tax Assessor Novelette Hopkins, and representatives of Certified Valuations, Inc (CVI). Mayor Evans allowed the meeting to go beyond the posted end time of 7pm. People vented their frustrations from about 6:20pm through 7:30pm.
The sequence of events for the re-valuations is as follows. Owners of 1-4 family homes have received, or are now receiving, their new value assessments. Property owners may challenge this preliminary assessment. Based on the dialogue between assessors and property owners there will be revised letters sent to property owners on 1 February with the clarified value.
If a homeowner is not happy with the revision, he may then pay somewhere between $5-$25–the officials were not sure–to appeal the assessment with the County tax office. The citizen must prepare his case and enter a form of arbitration, where he pleads his case against the assessor with a County Commissioner serving as mediator.
If the result is still not satisfactory, the property owner may head to State tax court. As we can see, there are several official avenues to contest the new assessed values of their property. The town hall was a public forum to vet personal frustrations. The residents let the officials hear some of their discontent.
One resident sees his property value change from $92,000 to $ 412,000. Another sees her property rise in value from $150,000 to $412,000. “I thought that we were not going to pay any taxes once the casinos came in,” said one resident. “What do I care what a house sold for ten years ago?” proclaimed one woman, “I am not moving anywhere. What about the people that are staying in Atlantic City? What about the residents?” she questioned.
Mayor Evans later responded, “I have lived through the empty (tax relief) promises.” The Mayor also joked about how difficult it is to pay City taxes, using his own inability to pay as an example.
One woman brought up the point, “When the taxes go up, my income is not going up.” “I am paying 4x what I paid [for a comparable house] in Brooklyn,” said another woman. A resident yelled out, “We put the elected officials [in] and we are left in the dark.” Residents also wondered if the higher values will scare away future home-buyers.
There were a few startling facts brought to light. 1) There is no set formula for judging the value of a lot. Some blocks have smaller lots that are higher priced than larger lots. Many discrepancies in the value of lots on a given block betray the apparent arbitrary nature of the valuation process. 2) The City is actively lobbying the State Legislature to amend the state law on phasing-in dramatic tax increases. The administration wants single family property owners to have their taxes phased-in, while Casinos are singled out to immediately bear the full brunt of paying the new sky-high property values. So much for equality under the law.
The City Budget will be finalized in May. The new tax bills based both on new property values and new City, County, and School budgets will be released in August.
I brought up a point and asked a question, we will not know the amount of the City budget until May: what is being done to cut the proposed budget?
Joseph Pollillo went in depth with the various ratable properties that have recently come on-line and are getting ready to come on-line. He brought to light how the Sheraton did not pay its full share of taxes until five years after it had opened. Their phase-in was 20% the first year, 40% the second, 60% the third, 80% the fourth, and the full 100% the last year.
One resident of The Chesapeake gave a helpful suggestion. She told her story of buying a home through the promise of a stable residential community. She is now surrounded by houses whose occupants are subsidized by the Housing Authority. They pay no mortgage or utility payments, only $100 monthly rent. Those government subsidized home-occupants have two cars in each driveway with out-of-state plates. The concerned neighbor, continued, “I pay all of this property tax to house drug users.” The Housing Authority would be one area to cut the budget.
The night ended with a slight consensus that the budget should be cut. We here at The Scoop see cutting property taxes through cutting the budget as the number one priority for the Mayor’s administration.