New Tax Bills Frustrate Taxpayers
Many residents say they can no longer afford to live in Montclair.
One resident of Christopher Street spoke for many at Tuesday night's Township Council meeting when she said she wasn't sure she could afford to live in Montclair any longer due to her recent tax hike.
The resident, who received her new tax bill late last week, said her taxes have gone up by $6,000, meaning her taxes now total $30,000 a year.
"That's more than some people will earn in an entire year," she said. "I have had to explain to my 13-year-old daughter that we may have to move.
"Nobody has endless pockets no matter how big the home," she added.
At Tuesday night's council meeting, taxpayers stepped forth one after another to ask questions about the third quarter tax bills that showed up in mailboxes late last week.
Residents have even set up a Facebook page called Tax Us Fairly Montclair.
Township Manager Marc Dashield explained that the third quarter bills are the result of last year's reassessment, one that was designed to make taxes more equitable.
He said that, as a result of the reassessment, the average property value went down 20.8 percent. Taxpayers whose property values went down at or close to the 20.8 percent average would have seen little or no change in their portion of the total tax burden. Those whose property values went down more than 20.8 percent would have seen their portion of the tax burden decline, while taxpayers whose property values decreased less than the average would have seen their portion of the burden rise.
In general, about 60 percent of taxpayers apparently saw decreases in taxes while 40 percent saw increases—some of which were major increases.
Dashield explained that a property owner's entire 2012 tax bill should be calculated by multiplying one's new assessed value by .03252—and not by multiplying the third quarter bill by four.
“You’re making up for the first two quarters [of 2012] which were billed at last year’s rate since we did not have an established rate and the budget was not approvved by that time,” he said.
Dashield emphasized more than once that any large increases were not connected to local government spending.
Rather, he explained that the tax levy based on school, county and municipal budgets was about $183,000,000 in 2011, while the 2012 figure is closer to $187,000,000.
Dashield also pointed out that, as a result of the reassessment, the value of the town's properties dropped from $7 billion to $5 billion.
"This [tax bill issue] is all directly related to the reassessment and this is not going to happen again unless we do another reassessment," he said.
He also noted, much to the chagrin of some angry taxpayers, that there's no way to appeal one's reassessment until next year.
Resident Howard Platzman said that he's lived in Montclair for 16 years but that he doesn't know how much longer he can afford it.
"I almost had a heart attack when I saw my tax bill on Friday," he said.
Platzman said that he really doesn't understand how people could have been under the impression that they might be paying a bit more or a bit less this year—but not a whole lot more or a whole lot less.
"I thought I had a $4,000 increase and maybe it's a little less than that but it's still a lot of money," he said.
Platzman said he has a real problem with suddenly being told that his tax bill is 40 percent higher without any real explanation.
"I think taxes should go up in a more phased-in manner," he said.
Another resident said that she didn't understand how all the homes around her house had dropped significantly in value—except for her home.
"I now owe $7,200 in August ... that's unfortunate ... we're in a real pickle here," she said.
Mayor Robert Jackson told taxpayers that he feels their pain, but that the new Township Council, which took office July 1, is already taking steps to reduce debt and, ultimately, taxes.
"We're already doing things to bring the number down," he said.
Towards this end, at a meeting earlier this month, Dashield unveiled a preliminary 10-year plan to reduce the town's $220 million debt.
He said that the town's first move would be to set a limit on new debt while establishing levels of principal to be paid off each year.
In addition, Dashield talked about the purchase of insurance through the IMAC broker rather than through the State Health Benefits plan. Dashield chose IMAC in September 2011 to negotiate health insurance purchases for the township, a move that he said saved the town $600,000.
One resident asked if the council was looking at new ways to raise revenue.
"We are moving aggressively at economic development," Jackson said. "The value of our property is really not in the selling of it but in the development of it.
"We understand and are doing all we can do at this time," he said.
For more on your tax bill, and how to decipher it, go here.
For more on tonight's meeting, go to Montclair Patch on Wednesday.
What do you think of the taxes? Let us know in the comments section below.