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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.

Joe Schmoe July 19, 2012 at 06:23 PM
If you are unhappy with your property taxes, feel free to let the Office of the Governor know about it: http://www.state.nj.us/cgi-bin/governor/govmail/govmail_1c_new.pl A 2% cap was put in place but 1. It is still exceeded and 2. It is only affecting the growth of the already high taxes. The state needs additional reform for high property taxes. There should be a hard cap on property values..period! 1% for a primary residence and 2-3% for all other property. See below: http://www.ibj.com/indiana-voters-ok-property-tax-cap-amendment/PARAMS/article/23227
CMFAS55 July 19, 2012 at 06:46 PM
It's amazing that all tax-related correspondence from the board of ed, town and now county tell us how they are all doing such an amazing job in holding the line on taxes and yet our rate is 3.25%. Look at any other town in Essex with a rate over 3% and you see all the rundown, poor towns that most with a choice in Montclair would avoid living in.
Stuart Weissman July 19, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Here ya go! Tax rates were from last year. Montclair's real tax rate is somewhere around 2.93 if you figure our average assessment was at 90% of 3.252. Town Effective tax rate 2011 2009 Household Value Minority East Orange $3.33 $266,100.00 95% Irvington $3.27 $229,089.00 93% Orange $3.12 $268,488.00 91% West Orange $3.12 $402,731.00 39% Bloomfield $2.89 $353,915.00 34% Glen Ridge $2.82 $571,665.00 10% South Orange $2.79 $481,048.00 33% Maplewood $2.76 $459,619.00 37% Montclair $2.64 $583,100.00 32% Nutley $2.62 $397,350.00 11% Belleville $2.60 $310,289.00 42% Verona $2.32 $445,878.00 7% Caldwell $2.14 $439,637.00 7% Newark $2.11 $288,500.00 84% Livingston $2.04 $571,761.00 3% West Caldwell $2.02 $521,855.00 5% North Caldwell $1.89 $713,116.00 10% Roseland $1.87 $562,536.00 7% Cedar Grove $1.78 $477,877.00 7% Millburn $1.72 $881,570.00 5% Essex Fells $1.69 $905,881.00 3% Fairfield $1.67 $560,230.00 6%
Shelley Emling (Editor) July 19, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Extremely thorough.... thx
montclairgurl July 19, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Stu, actually, don't forget our town broke out sewer a few years ago, so it's probably closer to 3%. And the next time there's an assessment if and when values go up, I'll be that 3.252 rate will stick.
Stuart Weissman July 19, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Yup... forgot the sewer. I did some pivot charts in Excel that I'll eventually upload to the interwebs, but besides Glen Ridge (most likely due to their lack of ratables), Montclair stands out like a sore thumb. I included the percentage of minorities because I wanted to see if there truly was a cost to diversification, and there pretty much isn't. I hate the way people throw cost of diverication around. If I get the time, I'll upload them tonight. If I were in the local council, I would spend a lot of time with Maplewood's leaders to find out how they are doing that much more with so much less.
montclairgurl July 19, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Stu, not just Maplewood. Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, even Belleville. Montclair does stick out like a sore thumb. Considering that we have a large downtown area as well as several other smaller business districts.
allaboutthenumbers123 July 20, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Stuart, In case you need the sewer billing numbers for the town starting in 2006 when I believe they were broken out, they are: '06, $4.081M, '07, $4.030M, '08, $4.255M, '09, $4.455M, '10, $4.538M. The '11 will be available when the '11 audit report is made available to the public. This is the sewer billings number from the footnote disclosure. Thanks for the detailed information above.
Stuart Weissman July 20, 2012 at 04:01 AM
Not a problem. And thank you for the sewer data as well. After this year, Montclair will have taxed themselves into the close company of East Orange, Irvington, Orange and West Orange, whose average household value is half of what Montclair's is. Yet these facts fall on deaf ears. San Bernardino is really not that far away for Montclair. I bailed and moved to Glen Ridge early last year to escape the potential bankruptcy. Though my tenants still live in Montclair and hopefully will continue to be able to afford the rent increases due to the tax increases. Though, will my renters want to live in a bankrupt town? Will they be willing to pay the escalated rents when the state forces austerity on Montclair? What will this do to the schools?
montclairgurl July 20, 2012 at 11:31 AM
I wonder if the new council reads Patch? This was such a boneheaded move. I often wonder if the previous council was vindictive toward a certain segment of the residents. There just seemed to be a pervasive "that'll show them" undertone to a lot of their words and actions, i.e, demonizing people who appealed their taxes, giving away Wildwood as an affordable property and calling it "social justice", the lack of concern about the impact of continued spending on pet projects, etc.
Ron Mullen July 20, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Joyce, "Flat" is not enough anymore. Essex County needs drastic cuts in the budget. Montclair is paying "too much" to the county.
tryintosurvive July 20, 2012 at 12:36 PM
I agree that the previous town council had a "that'll show them" undertone to a lot of their words and actions. The dissing of Cary and the committees and ignoring of sound financial recommendations. The decision to do the Wildwood sale despite the clear townspeople feelings against it, because Rene felt the the First Ward "deserved it". The position that some council members took that they would not do anything that would reduce town employees salaries or benefits by $1. The statement that we are on sound financial footing and past the crisis despite being over $200 million in debt. I could go on and on, but thankfully that council is gone. It is much too early to tell, but hopefully the new town council will address the real problems and not treat the townspeople like people to be ignored because the council knows better.
A. Gideon July 20, 2012 at 01:00 PM
"High taxes have already been suppressing sales" How do you know the weight of the "high taxes" factor vs. generic economic difficulties many are experiencing, the problem with potential buyers being unable to sell their other - possibly under water - properties, the difficulty in getting credit, etc.? I can easily see high taxes forcing prices down. I'm less sure about suppression of sales. ...Andrew
A. Gideon July 20, 2012 at 01:07 PM
"If I were in the local council, I would spend a lot of time with Maplewood's leaders to find out how they are doing that much more with so much less." Perhaps we can hold out the hope that the current council won't have the "Montclair is different" attitude which let the previous council ignore the idea of seeking and learning from working practices elsewhere. That was one aspect of Ms. Carlson's campaign that I wish would survive the election: she'd found some interesting ideas from other towns that might do very well for us. The current council should try to draft her aid in that regard. ...Andrew
Kay July 20, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Stu, fantastic data. Wondering though... how is it that Millburn, with is historically so-called "best schools in NJ", has such a low rate? Is it only because they have the Mall? Is that the same reason for Livingston? What about the Caldwells and the West Essex Regional area? What are we doing wrong? Should we level half of Bloomfield Avenue and build a Bed Bath and Beyond, Staples and Target? Also would be interesting to note how all the school districts rank in this list.
Stuart Weissman July 20, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Kay...Yes, the Short Hills Mall is a huge, huge, huge ratable for Millburn. I can't speak for Livingston, though I have a feeling that their large Jewish population keeps the local government spending in check. I choose not to use the school ratings because they really are flawed and are definitely influenced by the racial makeup of the community unfortunately. What would be interesting to me would be the local debt numbers for each community and how much of local tax revenue goes to pay for this debt service. The numbers in Montclair and Fried's complete ignorance of what kind of an impact this debt has on local services scared me out of the town. If things do get worse, I wouldn't want my kids in the school system when the state is running the show. I saw first-hand how well they ran the Jersey City Schools when I lived there for a short period in the 90s. This debt in Montclair represents $6200 per person on average. If you have a family of four, you owe Montclair $24,800! At some point this is going to break regardless of what Benecke (the consultant Fried paid to obtain what he wanted to hear). And to make matters worse, Fried wouldn't even keep the capital spending to the levels recommended by Benecke. Russo and Jackson have a history of ignoring capital debt. They deserve the benefit of the doubt for now, but if their past performance is any indicator of their future, pray for Montclair.
Stuart Weissman July 20, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I don't know if you were watching Montclair 34 on the night of the town council election, but if you had you would have heard Nick Lewis impart some advice to the future councilors. He said, "You need to get good at ignoring the public comment portion of the council meetings."
Kay July 20, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Jeeeezzz... scary stuff. We may have to bail as soon as the kids are out (that is, if I can even sell my house!) Very sad situation we are in here, folks!
allaboutthenumbers123 July 20, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Did anyone catch the article "Towns Cut Costs by Sending Work Next Door" in Friday's Wall Street Journal? It talks about towns cutting costs by outsourcing city-hall jobs to county government. Some towns counties assume the duties of tax collections, construction related work, dispatch, purchasing, human resources, etc.. The article says the downside is "you lose accountability to citizens". We don't have that in Montclair. The nepotism that happens in our county could have an impact on efficiencies and effectiveness. The newly elected town councilors could very likely be looking to do this type of work given their connections with the county and the unions.
tryintosurvive July 21, 2012 at 01:28 AM
If it saves money it could be a good thing. Does each town need a parks department along with a county parks department. What about other services. There could be some synergies that can save money.
montclairgurl July 21, 2012 at 02:33 AM
This council and the Essex County machine will NOT outsource. They want more people on the payroll.
Cary Africk July 22, 2012 at 03:44 AM
The people experiencing large increases are being hit by the reassessment, not by town spending. Work the numbers. People should have been focused on the redistribution - who is paying more, who less as a result of the reassessment. If homes in the $600 to $700k range saw their taxes go up on average by 10% while those in the $500 to $600K range saw 2% increases that says something important. It's a shifting of the burden. And this might have significant impact on the market. It could easily put downward pressure on the price of the more expensive homes. The point is we needed analysis and discussion before the new assessments were sent to the county.
montclairgurl July 22, 2012 at 10:58 AM
Cary, is anyone working the numbers? I'd love to know if there's a discrepancy based on price range or ward. Is this another case of "social justice"?
STEPHANIE WOOD July 22, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Thanks for the comment - my mother has been paying your taxes. We appealed a $579,000 assessment in 2005, and they only brought it down to $529,000, the real value of the home was $379,000. Now that we have a fair assessment, we are still paying the same taxes. And this is an 82 year old woman with Alzheimer's who is subsidizing your kids' education, but there are very few services available for her. If I sent her to the Pre-K it would be $55 a day, it's at least $80 a day at the elder daycare. Unfortunately she won't go, so my entire salary (possibly more) is going to go on caregivers.
STEPHANIE WOOD July 22, 2012 at 02:36 PM
I've been saying that for years, we don't own our homes, we pay a MORTGAGE to the town of Montclair. As it is, I have a new neighbor, a capitalist who offers 24/7 access to his new property, and people parading above our fence. No privacy, no peace, and no property of our own - just high taxes and harassment. My favorite which always gives me a laugh is the threat to put a lien on your house if you don't pay a sewer tax!
STEPHANIE WOOD July 22, 2012 at 02:41 PM
This is total spin. Why can't you twits in Essex Co. do something to help those poor animals who are all being killed in the Newark shelter? Over 90% of the cats are killed in that shelter. They banned volunteers. Why don't you do your job and investigate or fire Roseanne Trezza and put Nathan Winograd in charge? How about Cory Booker's broken promise to Patrick the dog? More sickening political spin. We told him to contact Maddie's Fund (I called, emailed and faxed his office with info about this several times, they've done nothing). In view of how horribly we treat our animals, I especially can't stand all the whiny parents in Montclair who keep breeding like rabbits. Can we have a TNR program for humans, so we don't have to piss away another $50 million on another school? And oh you millionaires while we're at it, how about some AC for the animals in the Montclair shelter?
STEPHANIE WOOD July 22, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Another thing hitting residents hard is the decline in the standard of living - noise levels, lack of privacy, traffic, even things like potholes (try riding the 28 bus, then call your chiropractor). My neighborhood is horribly noisy 7 days a week now, obnoxious drunks, obnoxious capitalists (Bob Silver), people screaming on megaphones (after I was told that was illegal), 8 Mondays without recycling pickup. I feel like all of my friends and family have much nicer and much cheaper lifestyles in other places. They have peace, quiet, central air, privacy, nicer newer homes (they also have money for repairs), quieter neighborhoods, privacy. Here I have everything that's bad about the city but nothing that is good. I can't say anything good at all about Montclair. I'm just dying to get out of here. Even the people are much nicer in other places.
Jacob Peck July 22, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Cary, I strongly agree with you. There is no logical explanation for 60% of the homes getting a tax decrease, many over 30% and 40% of the homes getting a tax increase, many over 30%. This reassessment needs to be put on hold and investigated for accuracy. A number of significant flaws have already been pointed out in this comment area. The only effective way to stop this flawed reassessment that I can see is bringing a lawsuit against the town. Do you have any more details of the successful suit in the 80"s. If any of you are interested in fighting this clearly defective reassessment please join the Tax Us Fairly Montclair Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/TaxUsFairlyMontclair We could really use an attorney to assist us.
A. Gideon July 22, 2012 at 04:37 PM
"And this might have significant impact on the market." In the long term, isn't this self-correcting? The properties that appreciate the most experience the greatest tax increase, thereby decreasing their values. The properties that appreciate the least experience the least tax increase, thereby increasing their values. ...Andrew
dherron July 23, 2012 at 11:05 AM
Yes, the numbers need to be worked. Something is very wrong with how property assessments are done. And none of the answers given are acceptable.

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