Hopatcong Properties to be Reassessed
Thursday, August 16, 2012 • 4:53pm
HOPATCONG, NJ – Residents in favor of and opposed to the proposed property reassessment spoke, often passionately, on the subject at the borough council meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 15.
Michele Guttenberg continued the line of questioning she started at the Aug. 1 meeting. She said the value of commercial property and undeveloped parcels dropped more precipitously than that of residential property, yet the reassessment will be of all properties.
“You’re doing an assessment of the middle class,” she said.
Borough Attorney John Ursin explained the revaluation was required because the drop in value of properties in the borough caused the equalized valuation against the Sussex County standard to rise to 114 percent. This causes people who appeal the taxable value of their homes to win most of the time, he said.
Guttenberg exceeded the mandated five minutes for each questioner, and Mayor Sylvia Petillo asked her to sit down. Guttenberg continued to call out questions and Councilwoman Estelle Klein finally implored: “everybody keep calm.”
The borough has had more than 500 tax appeals over the past three years, Ursin said. Each appeal costs tax dollars to fight and if the property owner wins, the borough must pay the entire amount of taxes overpaid. This is true, even though only about 25 percent of the taxes go to the borough. The rest go to the county and school district.
“The council has to determine if the $300,000 to be spent for the revaluation is wisely spent,” Ursin said before the vote on the revaluation.
The attorney explained the borough tax assessor requested from the county permission to do a tax adjustment of more than 40 percent of the properties in the borough. Forty percent is the maximum allowed without a forma reassessment with inspections of the property. The county would not allow a waiver, Ursin said.
Guttenberg was particularly critical of the taxes paid by MMK Reinsurance Bermuda Ltd., owner of Hudson Farms. She said she had paperwork indicating Hudson Farms was not being taxed at its full valuation. Ursin said as a non-profit MMK was actually paying more than could be expected.
Guttenberg said Hudson Farms has 602 acres in Hopatcong and only pays $100,000 a year in taxes.
Resident Randall Paulenich said the borough allowed MMK a farmland assessment. Ursin said rules for farmland assessment are set by the state.
Paulenich said, as he has before, the borough is in financial trouble because of $59 million in debt. Petillo said the bonds were issued when sewers were put in and to make state Department of Environmental Protection mandated repairs to the water system and are paid off through sewer and water fees.
Resident John Bongiorno asked if a revaluation is essentially a zero sum game.
“If you reduce the assessment, the rate goes up,” he said.
Ursin said he was right.
Ursin emphasized the revaluation will “not have an effect on state aid” to the borough.
Council unanimously voted to fund the revaluation and also to award a contract to Appraisal Systems for the reassessment.
In other business, council hiring Dorothy A. Fox as secretary to the land use board, replacing a secretary who retired.
Council also voted to authorize Ursin to draw up an ordinance vacating a section of Indian Trail.
Borough Engineer John Rucshe said the right-of-way is 66 feet wide, more conducive to a highway than a small residential road. Even so, the actual road is not entirely within the right-of-way.
“It was a horse track,” he explained, noting the road avoids the rockiest sections of the right-of-way.
Ursin said he will attempt to have a draft of the ordinance at the next meeting.
Councilwman Marie Ryder-Galate announced the police department will receive a drug dog from The Seeing Eye in Morris Township. The Mount Arlington Elks is funding the dog, who replace Rosco, the police dog who died earlier in the summer (click here to read the story in The Alternative Press).
Ryder-Galate said the puppy has to go to training in Bergen County and under Seeing Eye rules can’t leave that facility until two weeks before the training class. A class has not been scheduled yet.